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Immunology. 2005 Oct;116(2):145-63.

Without nerves, immunology remains incomplete -in vivo veritas.

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Faculty of Life Sciences, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


Interest in the interactions between nervous and immune systems involved in both pathological and homeostatic mechanisms of host defence has prompted studies of neuroendocrine immune modulation and cytokine involvement in neuropathologies. In this review we concentrate on a distinct area of homeostatic control of both normal and abnormal host defence activity involving the network of peripheral c-fibre nerve fibres. These nerve fibres have long been recognized by dermatologists and gastroenterologists as key players in abnormal inflammatory processes, such as dermatitis and eczema. However, the involvement of nerves can all too easily be regarded as that of isolated elements in a local phenomenon. On the contrary, it is becoming increasingly clear that neural monitoring of host defence activities takes place, and that involvement of central/spinal mechanisms are crucial in the co-ordination of the adaptive response to host challenge. We describe studies demonstrating neural control of host defence and use the specific examples of bone marrow haemopoiesis and contact sensitivity to highlight the role of direct nerve fibre connections in these activities. We propose a host monitoring system that requires interaction between specialized immune cells and nerve fibres distributed throughout the body and that gives rise to both neural and immune memories of prior challenge. While immunological mechanisms alone may be sufficient for local responsiveness to subsequent challenge, data are discussed that implicate the neural memory in co-ordination of host defence across the body, at distinct sites not served by the same nerve fibres, consistent with central nervous mediation.

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