The nervous and immune systems are intricately linked1. Although psychological stress is known to modulate immune function, mechanistic pathways linking stress networks in the brain to peripheral leukocytes remain poorly understood2. Here, we show that distinct brain regions shape leukocyte distribution and function throughout the body during acute stress in mice. Using optogenetics and chemogenetics, we demonstrate that motor circuits induce rapid neutrophil mobilization from the bone marrow to peripheral tissues via skeletal muscle-derived neutrophil-attracting chemokines. Conversely, the paraventricular hypothalamus controls monocyte and lymphocyte egress from secondary lymphoid organs and blood to the bone marrow through direct, cell-intrinsic glucocorticoid signaling. These stress-induced, counter-directional, population-wide leukocyte shifts are associated with altered disease susceptibility. On the one hand, acute stress changes innate immunity by reprogramming neutrophils and directing their recruitment to sites of injury. On the other hand, corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) neuron-mediated leukocyte shifts protect against the acquisition of autoimmunity, but impair immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and influenza infection. Collectively, these data show that distinct brain regions differentially and rapidly tailor the leukocyte landscape during psychological stress, thus calibrating the immune system’s capacity to respond to physical threats.

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