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J Intern Med. 2005 Feb;257(2):139-55.

Immune regulation of central nervous system functions: from sickness responses to pathological pain.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and the Center for Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA.


Classically, the central nervous system (CNS) and the immune system are thought to operate independently of each other. This simplistic view has been corrected in recent years, first with the recognition that the brain dynamically modulates the immune system, and later with the reverse; that is, that the immune system modulates the CNS as well. The evidence that the immune system regulates CNS functions is first reviewed. This immune-to-brain communication pathway triggers the production of a constellation of CNS-mediated phenomena, collectively referred to as 'sickness responses'. These sickness responses are created by immune-to-brain signals activating CNS glia to release glial proinflammatory cytokines. The most recently recognized member of this constellation of changes is enhanced pain responsivity. The hypothesis is then developed that pathological, chronic pain may result from 'tapping into' this ancient survival-oriented circuitry, including the activation of immune and glial cells and the release of immune/glial proinflammatory cytokines. This can occur at the level of peripheral nerves, dorsal root ganglia, spinal cord, and likely at higher brain areas. The implications of this model for human chronic pain syndromes and clinical resolution of these chronic pain states are then discussed.

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