Exercise increases plasma TNF-alpha, IL-1beta, and IL-6, yet the stimuli and sources of TNF-alpha and IL-1beta remain largely unknown. We tested the role of oxidative stress and the potential contribution of monocytes in this cytokine (especially IL-1beta) response in previously untrained individuals. Six healthy nonathletes performed two 45-min bicycle exercise sessions at 70% of Vo(2 max) before and after a combination of antioxidants (vitamins E, A, and C for 60 days; allopurinol for 15 days; and N-acetylcysteine for 3 days). Blood was drawn at baseline, end-exercise, and 30 and 120 min postexercise. Plasma cytokines were determined by ELISA and monocyte intracellular cytokine level by flow cytometry. Before antioxidants, TNF-alpha increased by 60%, IL-1beta by threefold, and IL-6 by sixfold secondary to exercise (P < 0.05). After antioxidants, plasma IL-1beta became undetectable, the TNF-alpha response to exercise was abolished, and the IL-6 response was significantly blunted (P < 0.05). Exercise did not increase the percentage of monocytes producing the cytokines or their mean fluorescence intensity. We conclude that in untrained humans oxidative stress is a major stimulus for exercise-induced cytokine production and that monocytes play no role in this process.
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