Sickness and Behaviour in Animals: A Motivational Perspective

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1999 Nov;23(7):1029-36. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(99)00034-2.


Proinflammatory cytokines, produced by the activated immune system, induce a whole set of non-specific symptoms in the infected individual (i.e. hypophagia, adipsia, reduced social interest). However, evidence summarised in this review shows that behavioural changes induced by cytokines are not merely the consequence of a degraded state but reflect motivational reorganisation. If the set-up of these new priorities is expressed by a general decrease in behavioural activities (e.g. immobility, sleepiness), the sick individual remains nevertheless an open system still able to respond to environmental stimuli. If these cues are evaluated as relevant to the new priorities (e.g. cues from scattered pups or cues from nest material when ambient temperature is low), the sick individual interrupts sickness behaviour in order to respond specifically to the cues (e.g. retrieving of the pups or nest building). Once this is done, there is a return to recuperative behaviour. These findings represent a primary characterisation of biobehavioural action of immune stimuli, and they open new perspectives to facilitate further progress in our understanding of cytokine effects on behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Disease / psychology*
  • Infections / psychology
  • Inflammation / psychology
  • Motivation*