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Background: Psychological and physical stress can either enhance or suppress immune functions depending on a variety of factors such as duration and severity of stressful situation. Chronic stress exerts a significantly suppressive effect on immune functions. However, the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon remain to be elucidated. Autophagy plays an essential role in modulating cellular homeostasis and immune responses. However, it is not known yet whether autophagy contributes to chronic stress-induced immunosuppression. T cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain 3 (Tim-3) has shown immune-suppressive effects and obviously positive regulation on cell apoptosis. Tim-3 combines with Tim-3 ligand galectin-9 to modulate apoptosis. However, its impact on autophagy and chronic stress-induced immunosuppression is not yet identified. Results: We found remarkably higher autophagy level in the spleens of mice that were subjected to chronic restraint stress compared with the control group. We also found that inhibition of autophagy by the autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine (3-MA) significantly attenuated chronic stress-induced alterations of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine levels. We further elucidated that 3-MA dramatically inhibited the reduction of lymphocyte numbers. Moreover, chronic stress dramatically enhanced the expression of Tim-3 and galectin-9. Inhibition of Tim-3 by small interfering RNA against Tim-3 significantly decreased the level of autophagy and immune suppression in isolated primary splenocytes from stressed mice. In addition, α-lactose, a blocker for the interaction of Tim-3 and galectin-9, also decreased the autophagy level and immune suppression. Conclusion: Chronic stress induces autophagy, resulting with suppression of immune system. Tim-3 and galectin-9 play a crucial regulatory role in chronic stress-induced autophagy. These studies suggest that Tim-3 mediated autophagy may offer a novel therapeutic strategy against the deleterious effects of chronic stress on the immune system.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.