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Baillieres Clin Rheumatol. 1996 May;10(2):227-57.

The immune effects of neuropeptides.

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Department of Immunology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.


Current evidence indicates that the neuroendocrine system is the highest regulator of immune/inflammatory reactions. Prolactin and growth hormone stimulate the production of leukocytes, including lymphocytes, and maintain immunocompetence. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis constitutes the most powerful circuit regulating the immune system. The neuropeptides constituting this axis, namely corticotrophin releasing factor, adrenocorticotrophic hormone, alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone, and beta-endorphin are powerful immunoregulators, which have a direct regulatory effect on lymphoid cells, regulating immune reactions by the stimulation of immunoregulatory hormones (glucocorticoids) and also by acting on the central nervous system which in turn generates immunoregulatory nerve impulses. Peptidergic nerves are major regulators of the inflammatory response. Substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide are pro-inflammatory mediators and somatostatin is anti-inflammatory. The neuroendocrine regulation of the inflammatory response is of major significance from the point of view of immune homeostasis. Malfunction of this circuit leads to disease and often is life-threatening. The immune system emits signals towards the neuroendocrine system by cytokine mediators which reach significant blood levels (cytokine-hormones) during systemic immune/inflammatory reactions. Interleukin-1, -6, and TNF-alpha are the major cytokine hormones mediating the acute phase response. These cytokines induce profound neuroendocrine and metabolic changes by interacting with the central nervous system and with many other organs and tissues in the body. Corticotrophin releasing factor functions under these conditions as a major co-ordinator of the response and is responsible for activating the ACTH-adrenal axis for regulating fever and for other CNS effects leading to a sympathetic outflow. Increased ACTH secretion leads to glucocorticoid production. alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone functions under these conditions as a cytokine antagonist and an anti-pyretic hormone. The sympathetic outflow, in conjunction with increased adrenal activity. leads to the elevation of catecholamines in the bloodstream and in tissues. Current evidence suggests that neuroimmune mechanisms are essential in normal physiology, such as tissue turnover, involution, atrophy, intestinal function, and reproduction. Host defence against infection, trauma and shock relies heavily on the neuroimmunoregulatory network. Moreover, abnormalities of neuroimmunoregulation contribute to the aetiology of autoimmune disease, chronic inflammatory disease, immunodeficiency, allergy, and asthma. Finally, neuroimmune mechanisms play an important role in regeneration and healing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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