Overtraining and immune system: A prospective longitudinal study in endurance athletes

Holger H.W. Gabriel*, Axel Urhausen, Günter Valet, Ute Heidelbach, Wilfried Kindermann

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    61 Citations (Scopus)


    A prospective longitudinal study investigated for 19 ± 3 months whether immunophenotypes of peripheral leukocytes were altered in periods of severe training. Leukocyte membrane antigens (CD3, CD4, CD8, CD14, CD16, CD19, CD45, CD45RO, and CD56) of endurance athletes were immunophenotyped (dual-color flow cytometry) and list mode data analyzed by a self-learning classification system in a state of an overtraining syndrome (OT; N = 15) and several occasions without symptoms of staleness (NS; N = 70). Neither at physical rest nor after a short-term highly intensive cycle ergometer exercise session at 110% of the individual anaerobic threshold did cell counts of neutrophils, T, B, and natural killer cells differ between OT and NS. Eosinophils were lower during OT, activated T cells (CD3+HLA-DR+) showed slight increases (NS: 5.5 ± 2.7; OT 7.3 ± 2.4% CD3+ of cells; means ± SD; P <0.01) during OT without reaching pathological ranges. The cell-surface expression of CD45RO (P < 0.001) on T cells, but not cell concentrations of CD45RO+ T cells, were higher during OT. OT could be classified with high specificides (92%) and sensitivities (93%). It is concluded that OT does not lead to clinically relevant alterations of immunophenotypes in peripheral blood and especially that an immunosuppressive effect cannot be detected. Immunophenotyping may provide help with the diagnosis of OT in future, but the diagnostic approach presented here requires improvements before use in sports medical practice is enabled.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1151-1157
    Number of pages7
    JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 1998


    • CD45RO
    • Diagnosis
    • Endurance training
    • Exercise
    • Flow cytometry
    • Immunophenotypes
    • Lymphocytes
    • Staleness


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