Research Article: Mood configurations and their relationship to immune system responses: Exploring the relationship between moods, immune system responses, thyroid hormones, and social support

Date Published: May 31, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Jolly Masih, Frank Belschak, J. M. I. Willem Verbeke, Fulvio D’Acquisto.


Analyzing data on 2,057 healthy subjects in the Dutch Lifelines database we explore the relationship between immune system responses, thyroid hormone functioning and people’s mood that is expected to be moderated by social support. We focus (1) on the innate immune system cell count: monocytes, eosinophil granulocytes, basophilic granulocytes, neutrophil granulocytes; and thrombocytes; and (2) on the adaptive immune system cell count: lymphocytes (T, B and NK cells). Moods were measured on the positive (PA) and negative (NA) dimensions of the PANAS scale, divided in four groups based on their PA and NA median scores: hedonic, positive mood, negative mood and anhedonic. We focus further on (3) thyroid cells: T3 and T4; and (4) on social support. We found significant differences between mood groups and mean cell counts for basophilic granulocytes and thrombocytes but not for monocytes, eosinophil granulocytes and neutrophil granulocytes in the innate immune system. However, in the adaptive immune system we found mean lymphocyte cell counts to be different in all four mood groups. We also found that T3 and T4 levels differ significantly across all mood groups and work in very close association with lymphocytes to activate the adaptive immune system. These differences were most significant in the hedonic and anhedonic groups. The findings allow us to better understand mood groups, especially the hedonic and anhedonic groups, and open up new avenues for intervention.

Partial Text

In the field of psychoimmunology [1] or affective immunology [2], researchers have shown that immune system responses and moods are related. However, findings are not always consistent. Negative moods, for instance, are related to a higher lymphocyte cell count [3], higher basophilic granulocyte cell count [4, 5] and higher thrombocyte cell count [6, 7]. Positive moods are also related to basophilic granulocyte and thrombocyte-increased cell counts [8] and to a higher lymphocyte cell count [9]. Another study shows that the interaction between basophilic granulocyte and thrombocyte comes with high arousal of both positive and negative valence [10]. In addition, higher lymphocyte cell count is related to both anger and happiness [9, 11].

In order to study people’s moods we use the positive (PA) and negative (NA) affect schedule scale (PANAS), a self-report instrument [21] widely used in the field of psychology for both clinical and non-clinical populations. Moods function like emotions but unlike emotions, they are “not necessarily directed at anything” [22], yet they are consciously felt and always present in the background. Put concretely, we explore whether people’s PA and NA moods might be related to the immune system level cell count.

To test whether the mood groups and immune system level cell counts differed significantly, we computed multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVA) with the mood groups as the independent variables and the immune system level cell counts as dependent variables. Fig 1 displays the different mood group configurations and Fig 2 displays the interaction between the immune system level cell counts and the different mood groups.

In this paper we hypothesized about the relationships between mood groups and innate and adaptive immune system level cell counts. We suggested that the adaptive immune system inducing lymphocyte-thyroid functioning might be affected by the interaction between mood groups and social environment [2].

The relationships we found are significant but their adjusted R2 is relatively low. However, this kind of result is common in the epidemiological literature. We did not perform multiple comparison corrections since we were looking at the effect of different immune system level cell counts. When they function together, like a unit or team, they trigger a series of chain reactions as system-based processes and biologically speaking are not independent of each other. This could be perceived as a study limitation. Please also note that the Lifelines cohort data used deals with a healthy population and thus any differences based on, say, a comparison of the healthy and unhealthy would be minor. In addition, the epidemiological—not experimental—condition of this study might explain the low correlations found.




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