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J Soc Biol. 2003;197(2):81-8.

[Relationships between the brain and the immune system].

[Article in French]

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INRA-INSERM U394, rue Camille Saint-Saƫns, 33077 Bordeaux, France.


The concept that the brain can modulate activity the immune system stems from the theory of stress. Recent advances in the study of the inter-relationships between the central nervous system and the immune system have demonstrated a vast network of communication pathways between the two systems. Lymphoid organs are innervated by branches of the autonomic nervous system. Accessory immune cells and lymphocytes have membrane receptors for most neurotransmitters and neuropeptides. These receptors are functional, and their activation leads to changes in immune functions, including cell proliferation, chimiotactism and specific immune responses. Brain lesions and stressors can induce a number of changes in the functioning of the immune system. All these changes are not necessarily mediated by the neuroendocrine system. They can also be dependent on autonomic nerve function. The communication pathways that link the brain to the immune system are normally activated by signals from the immune system, and they serve to regulate immune responses. These signals originate from accessory immune cells such as monocytes and macrophages and they are represented mainly by proinflammatory cytokines. Proinflammatory cytokines produced at the periphery act on the brain via two major pathways: (1) a humoral pathway allowing pathogen specific molecular patterns to act on Toll-like receptors in those brain areas that are devoid of a functional blood-brain barrier, the so-called circumventricular areas; (2) a neural pathway, represented by the afferent nerves that innervate the bodily site of infection and injury. In both cases, peripherally produced cytokines induce the expression of brain cytokines that are produced by resident macrophages and microglial cells. These locally produced cytokines diffuse throughout the brain parenchyma to act on target brain areas so as to organise the central components of the host response to infection (fever, neuroendocrine activation, and sickness behavior).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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