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J Neurochem. 2000 Feb;74(2):457-71.

"Inflammatory" cytokines: neuromodulators in normal brain?

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CNRS-INSERM Centre de Pharmacologie-Endocrinologie, Montpellier, France.


If cytokines are constitutively expressed by and act on neurons in normal adult brain, then we may have to modify our current view that they are predominantly inflammatory mediators. We critically reviewed the literature to determine whether we could find experimental basis for such a modification. We focused on two "proinflammatory" cytokines, interleukin (IL)-1 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha) because they have been most thoroughly investigated in shaping our current thinking. Evidence, although equivocal, indicates that the genes coding for these cytokines and their accessory proteins are expressed by neurons, in addition to glial cells, in normal brain. Their expression is region- and cell type-specific. Furthermore, bioactive cytokines have been extracted from various regions of normal brain. The cytokines' receptors selectively are present on all neural cell types, rendering them responsive to cytokine signaling. Blocking their action modifies multiple neural "housekeeping" functions. For example, blocking IL-1 or TNFalpha by several independent means alters regulation of sleep. This indicates that these cytokines likely modulate in the brain behavior of a normal organism. In addition, these cytokines are likely involved in synaptic plasticity, neural transmission, and Ca2+ signaling. Thus, the evidence strongly suggests that these cytokines perform neural functions in normal brain. We therefore propose that they should be thought of as neuromodulators in addition to inflammatory mediators.

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