Mouse models show that experimental stress mimicking prolonged life-stress exposure enhances neurogenic inflammation, induces adaptive immunity cytokine-imbalance characterized by a shift to Type 1 T-helper cell cytokines and increases apoptosis of epithelial cells. This affects hair growth in otherwise healthy animals. In this study, we investigate whether a prolonged naturalistic life-stress exposure affects cytokine balance and hair parameters in healthy humans. 33 (18 exam, 15 comparison) female medical students with comparable sociobiological status were analyzed during a stressful final examination period, at three points in time (T) 12 weeks apart. T1 was before start of the learning period, T2 between the three-day written exam and an oral examination, and T3 after a 12 week rest and recovery from the stress of the examination period. Assessments included: self-reported distress and coping strategies (Perceived Stress Questionnaire [PSQ], Trier Inventory for the Assessment of Chronic Stress [TICS]), COPE), cytokines in supernatants of stimulated peripheral blood mononucleocytes (PBMCs), and trichogram (hair cycle and pigmentation analysis). Comparison between students participating in the final medical exam at T2 and non-exam students, revealed significantly higher stress perception in exam students. Time-wise comparison revealed that stress level, TH1/TH2 cytokine balance and hair parameters changed significantly from T1 to T2 in the exam group, but not the control. However, no group differences were found for cytokine balance or hair parameters at T2. The study concludes that in humans, naturalistic stress, as perceived during participation in a major medical exam, has the potential to shift the immune response to TH1 and transiently hamper hair growth, but these changes stay within a physiological range. Findings are instructive for patients suffering from hair loss in times of high stress. Replication in larger and more diverse sample populations is required, to assess suitability of trichogram analysis as biological outcome for stress studies.
Peters, E. M. J., Müller, Y., Snaga, W., Fliege, H., Reißhauer, A., Schmidt-Rose, T., … Kruse, J. (2017). Hair and stress: A pilot study of hair and cytokine balance alteration in healthy young women under major exam stress. PLoS ONE, 12(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0175904