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Semin Oncol. 1998 Feb;25(1 Suppl 1):30-8.

Cytokines and brain function: relevance to interferon-alpha-induced mood and cognitive changes.

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  • 1Clinical Neuroendocrinology Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1284, USA.


Cytokines such as interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) are increasingly being exploited as biologic response modifiers to treat cancer. However, treatment with IFN-alpha can adversely affect mood and cognition, causing depression, memory disturbances, and other signs of central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction. The genes encoding cytokines and their receptors are expressed in the CNS under both resting and stimulated conditions, and cytokines can affect key brain functions. The physiologic effects of IFN-alpha therapy on the CNS are probably a consequence of the activation of a complex cascade of secondary cytokines both in the periphery and within the CNS. We review the neurobiology of cytokines and outline some of the potential mechanisms by which alterations of cytokine expression in the CNS could contribute to cognitive dysfunction and mood disorders during IFN-alpha therapy.

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