Karsten Krüger and Frank C. Mooren
Physical exercise is well known to affect leukocyte numbers and function. While regular exercise training has been shown to enhance specific immune functions, acute bouts of intensive exercise often lead to a pro-inflammatory response accompanied by a transient lymphocytopenia and neutrophilia. It can be assumed, that lymphocytopenia can be attributed at least partially to an enhanced lymphocyte apoptosis. In contrast, regulation of neutrophil apoptosis after exercise remains controversial since studies demonstrated both an up-regulation as well as a down-regulation of cell death. However, these discrepancies may be due to differences in exercise protocols, subjects’ fitness levels, and to different
methodological approaches. Two major signalling pathways of exercise induced apoptosis have been identified. First the external receptor mediated pathway using death receptors, and second the internal, oxidative-mediated pathway which encompasses the mitochondria. Potential apoptosis modulating mediators are reactive oxygen species (ROS), glucocorticoids and cytokines which are part of the systemic inflammatory response evoked after acute intensive exercise. Finally, the physiological impact and clinical relevance of leukocyte apoptosis will be discussed. On the one hand, exercise-induced apoptosis might be a mechanism to remove activated and potentially autoreactive immune cells. On the other hand, apoptosis might be a regulatory mechanism which is necessary for tissue reorganization and adaptational training processes.
Keywords: cell death, lymphocytes, neutrophils, extrinsic apoptosis pathway, intrinsic apoptosis pathway, reactive oxygen species, glucocorticoids