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The influence of 6% carbohydrate ingestion and age on PHA-induced lymphocyte proliferation and in vitro cytokine production was studied in 48 runners following a competitive marathon. Runners were randomly assigned to carbohydrate (C; n = 23) and placebo (P; n = 25) groups, with blood samples taken before, immediately after, and 1.5 hr post-race. C versus P ingestion resulted in higher plasma glucose, lower plasma corlisol, reduced neutrophilia, and mono-cytosis during recovery, but had no effect on the post-exercise reduction in T-lymphocytes or NK cells, or on race times. No group differences were observed for PHA-induced lymphocyte proliferation or cytokine production. However, for all subjects combined, lymphocyte proliferation and IFN-γ secretion decreased significantly below pre-race values by 1.5 hr of recovery, and these were negatively correlated with plasma cortisol. Young (<50 years; n = 36) and old (≥50 years; n = 12) runners exhibited parallel post-race declines in lymphocyte proliferation and IFN-γ secretion, with the older group exhibiting a 33–59% lower proliferation at each time point. In conclusion, PHA-induced lymphocyte proliferation and cytokine production decreased significantly following a marathon, and this decrease was strongly linked to cortisol and only partially linked to T-cell changes. This decrease occurred in both younger and older runners and was not influenced by carbohydrate.

D.A. Henson, D.C. Nieman, E.E. Pistilli, B. Schilling, A.C. Utter, and D.M. Vinci are with the Department of Biology and the Department of Health, Leisure, and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608. A.R. Colacino, O.R. Fagoaga, and S.L. Nehlsen-Cannarella are with the Immunology Center and Department of Pathology at Loma Linda University Medical Center, Loma Linda, CA 92350.