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Autoimmunity. 1994;19(2):141-50.

Nerve growth factor and autoimmune diseases.

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Institute of Neurobiology, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Rome, Italy.


The initiation of a humoral immune response to a foreign antigen is a complex biologic process involving the interaction of many cell types and their secreted products. Autoimmune diseases, which are characterized by an abnormal activation of the immune system, probably result from the failure of normal self-tolerance mechanisms. The etiology of such illnesses, however, is far from being understood. While there have been extensive studies on the participation of the immune and endocrine systems in autoimmune diseases, few have dealt with nervous system-mediated immunoregulation in such situations. Evidence continues to grow suggesting that nerve growth factor (NGF), first identified for its activity in promoting the growth and differentiation of sensory and sympathetic neurons, may exert a modulatory role on neuroimmunoendocrine functions of vital importance in the regulation of homeostatic processes. Newly detected NGF-responsive cells belong to the hemopoietic-immune system and to populations in the brain involved in neuroendocrine functions. NGF levels are elevated in a number of autoimmune states, along with increased accumulation of mast cells. NGF and mast cells both appear to be involved in neuroimmune interactions and tissue inflammation. Moreover, mast cells themselves synthesize, store, and release NGF, proposing that alterations in normal mast cell behaviors may provoke maladaptive neuroimmune tissue responses whose consequences could have profound implications in inflammatory disease states, including those of an autoimmune nature. This review focuses on these cellular events and presents a working model which attempts to explain the close interrelationships of the neuroendocrinoimmune triade via a modulatory action of NGF.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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