To investigate the mechanisms of exercise-induced immune perturbations, we measured promising immunomodulatory hormones and cytokines in plasma of 16 male marathon runners before and after a competitive 42.195-km race. Interleukin 1-beta (IL-1β) and interferon gamma (IFN-γ) concentrations remained unchanged after the marathon. The cytokines IL-12, IFN-α and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) could not be detected even using highly sensitive specific immunoassays, indicating at least that overshooting responses of these cytokines had not occurred after exercise. As mechanisms for the small changes in these cytokines, we demonstrated for the first time a significant rise in concentrations of inhibitory cytokine IL-10 in addition to the immunosuppressive hormone cortisol, although concentrations of IL-4 and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) were unaffected by the race. Furthermore, concentrations of IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) and IL-6, which are negative-feedback inhibitors of cytokine production, increased by more than 100 times. As for humoral mediators of neutrophil mobilization, concentrations of growth hormone (GH), cortisol and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) increased significantly. In addition, concentrations of neutrophil-priming substances (IL-6, IL-8, G-CSF, GH and prolactin) also increased significantly and the induction of IL-8 and G-CSF with exercise was demonstrated for the first time in the present study. In contrast, IL-2 concentration decreased, by 32%, and this was correlated with the induction of nitric oxide (NO) production. Muscle damage, monitored using changes in concentrations of creatine kinase and myoglobin, was also observed. These results suggested that exercise-induced pathogenesis including previously reported immunosuppression and neutrophil hyper-reactivity might be attributed, at least partly, to the systemic dynamics of the above bioactive substances.
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