Future directions in exercise & immunology: regulation & integration

Although it is difficult to predict future directions in a

rapidly expanding field such as exercise immunology, recently

published research along with that presented at this Symposium

allow us to ask some key questions which may point to new

directions: 1) Are athletes immunocompromised? Athletes are

not clinically immunodeficient, yet endurance athletes are at

increased risk of illness. Long-term prospective studies are

needed to understand the relationship between infection,

training variables and immune parameters. 2) Is downregulation

of nonspecific immunity beneficial or harmful? In athletes,

neutrophils appear to be downregulated, and this may alter

resistance to illness. Alternatively, neutrophils are

mediators of tissue damage during inflammation. Downregulation

of neutrophil function may be protective by limiting chronic

inflammation. In athletes, mild immunosuppression may reflect

a compromise between the body’s attempts to limit inflammation

while maintaining immune function. 3) What mediates

communication between events in skeletal muscle and the immune

system? Leukocyte mobility is affected by metabolic and

mechanical factors during exercise. Exercise increases

cytokine levels in damaged skeletal muscle and expression of

adhesion molecules. Future work is likely to focus on the role

of cytokines and adhesion molecules in mediating

exercise-induced changes in leukocyte mobility. 4) Can

exercise training provide a “countermeasure” against

immunosuppressive events? Moderate exercise training may have

a role in stimulating the immune system during certain

diseases (e.g., HIV- infection), immune dysfunction (e.g.,

chronic fatigue syndrome) or reduced responsiveness (e.g.

aging, spaceflight). It is also likely that future study will

apply molecular biology techniques to further identify

mechanisms by which exercise influences immune function.

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