Exercise increases inflammatory macrophage antitumor cytotoxicity

J. A. Woods, J. M. Davis, E. P. Mayer, A. Ghaffar, R. R. Pate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study determined the effects of exercise on the ability of inflammmatory macrophages to inhibit tumor cell growth in vitro (macrophage cytotoxicity). Thioglycollate injection (1 ml ip) was used as an inflammatory challenge and to partially activate macrophages for cytotoxicity. Inbred male C3H/HeN mice (n = 180) exercised moderately (MOD, 18 m/min, 30 min/day, 5% grade) or to exhaustion (EXH, 18-35 m/min, 2-4 h, 5% grade) on a motor- driven treadmill for 3 consecutive days after injection. Control (CON) mice were kept in simulated treadmill lanes directly over the runners. Mice were killed immediately or 3 or 8 h postexercise. Macrophages from both MOD and EXH exercise groups manifested significantly (P < 0.05) enhanced (~50%) cytotoxicity compared with those from CON group at all time points postexercise. This potentially beneficial exercise effect was not related to macrophage production of interleukin-1β, reactive nitrogen or oxygen intermediates, or number of macrophages in the assay but may have been manifested, in part, by tumor necrosis factor-α. Plasma corticosterone was significantly elevated immediately postexercise in MOD and EXH compared with CON mice; however, no evidence existed for an immunosuppressive effect of corticosterone on macrophage cytotoxicity, perhaps because of insensitivity of inflammatory macrophages to glucocorticoid suppression seen in vitro. These data only partially support the 'inverted U hypothesis,' which states that moderate exercise may enhance, whereas very heavy exercise or a lack of exercise may attenuate, the immune response. Further study is needed to determine the physiological significance of these findings and the effects of exercise on macrophage subsets sensitive to glucocorticoid suppression (i.e., fully activated macrophages).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)879-886
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • cancer defense
  • glucocorticoids
  • immunity
  • inflammation
  • interleukin-1β
  • mice
  • tumor necrosis factor-α

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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