Undoubtedly the most important contribution of Selye is the discovery and the popularization of the stress concept. Scientifically speaking, Selye must be credited for the discovery of the hypothalamus-pituitary-immune axis. By outlining the neuroendocrine mechanisms that were involved in stress, it became clear that the neuroendocrine system regulates immune phenomena and also influences host resistance to disease/insults. Stressed animals showed resistance to various noxious stimuli, which Selye called the general adaptation syndrome (GAS).
Looking at Dr. Selye's principal areas of research during his scientific career, which spanned half a century, one may observe that even if they seem to be very different, all of them were inspired by the profound conviction of Selye that neuroendocrine mechanisms play a fundamental role in what he called "diseases of adaptation." Once he decided to work on an area, he thoroughly surveyed the literature which was usually published then in the form of a book. In these books a possible role of neuroendocrine mechanisms in relation to the subject was never neglected, even in the event of not much information being available. Then he presented related findings from his own laboratory, which also appeared in numerous publications (his lifetime output was 1,325 papers).
His contributions to modern immunology are major indeed. He discovered that steroid hormones regulate lymphoid organs such as the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes and Bursa of Fabricius in birds. He demonstrated that thymic atrophy is mediated by the ACTH-adrenal axis during stress with glucocorticoids being the final effector molecules. He also described the antiinflammatory action of adrenal steroid hormones. He and his coworkers made significant contributions to our understanding of the role of mast cells in various pathological phenomena. Selye made all these contributions without knowing the function of the thymus, lymph nodes or the Bursa of Fabricius. The function of these organs was understood only a few years prior to my arrival in Montreal (1967). I followed these developments closely because my major interest has always been immunology.
Other major areas of his research are calciphylaxis, cardiopathies, catatoxic steroids, trombohemorrhagic phenomena, the eustress-distress concept, and pluricausal diseases. He firmly believed that one always must take into consideration of the entire organism in research:
"You could never learn what a mouse is like by carefully examining each of its cells separately under the electron microscope any more than you could appreciate the beauty of a cathedral through the chemical analysis of each stone that went into its construction." (From “In Vivo” : New York: Livesight Pub Co, 1967.)
Selye’s legacy is the creation of Neuroimmune Biology, the development of intense research in the stress field and in Biology in general. Recently it became clear that GAS is mediated by the amplification of innate immune mechanisms whereas the adaptive immune system is suppressed by acute stress/illness. Stress is indeed a host defence mechanism and leads to problems only when things get out of hand. Much remains to be done in order to understand better this important emergency host defence response in higher organisms.
Selye International Institute for Advanced Studies- A new institute in the planning and design stage
Concept: To create high quality interaction & opportunities for cooperation, study & teach at different levels in the field of biomedical & social sciences related to the work of Dr. Hans Selye.
Power Point Slides from symposium.
A retrospective 75 years after his landmark brief “Letter” to the Editor of Nature
SANDOR SZABO1,*, YVETTE TACHE2, & ARPAD SOMOGYI3,*, Stress. 2012 Sep;15(5):472-8