Stress and Immunosenescence: Protective Effects of Emotion Regulation

Grants and Contracts Details


Identifying factors that influence age-related immune dysfunction (immunosenescence) in older adults is central to reducing morbidity – an increasingly important goal given the rapidly expanding aging population. Evidence from observational and experimental studies suggests that stress is associated with poorer immune function in older adults. However, less is known about the dynamic emotional and physiological mechanisms by which stress influences older adults’ immune function. In addition, effective emotion regulation may be a potential protective factor that can buffer against stress-related immunosenescence in later life, but there is a dearth of knowledge in this area. This K99/R00 proposal lays the foundation for an independent research career focused on characterizing the mechanisms by which stress influences immunosenescence, as well as the potential protective role of emotion regulation. Together, the research and training plans will provide the applicant (1) a strong foundation in theories and methodologies of aging research, (2) expertise in immunosenescence and age-related immune changes, and (3) focused training in emotions and emotion regulation processes in older adults. The mentored phase capitalizes on substantial resources at the University of Kentucky (UK) and the expertise of an inter-disciplinary mentoring team (UK: Drs. Segerstrom and Lutz; UC Berkeley: Dr. Mauss; Penn State: Dr. Ram, UCLA: Dr. Effros). These experiences will supplement the applicant’s strong existing background in stress, emotions, health, and quantitative methods. The proposed studies represent critical steps toward identifying how stressors influence immunosenescence (i.e., Aims 2 and 3: through dynamic mechanisms of negative emotion and cortisol) and when these associations may be attenuated (i.e., Aims 1 and 3: when effective emotion regulation strategies are used). The research incorporates a rigorous approach to test the proposed biopsychosocial model by examining its interacting components across different time domains (i.e., life stressors that occur over years and daily hassles that occur on a more micro level), in various samples (community-dwelling older adults and a large, nationally representative sample), and across several markers of immunosenescence (including lymphocyte senescence, inflammaging, a chief proinflammatory transcription factor, and latent viruses that may drive these associations). Concurrent and prospective lagged moderation and mediation models using multilevel modeling (MLM) and regression will be used to test relationships among stressors, immunosenescence, emotional and physiological responses to stress, and emotion regulation. At its conclusion, this project will yield a detailed understanding of the dynamic mechanisms by which stressors influence immunosenescence in older adults, as well as the role of emotion regulation as a potential resilient factor in promoting healthy aging and well-being.
Effective start/end date9/15/178/31/19


  • National Institute on Aging: $219,204.00


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