Cytokines and fever

Front Biosci. 2004 May 1;9:1433-49. doi: 10.2741/1341.


Cytokines are highly inducible, secreted proteins mediating intercellular communication in the nervous and immune system. Fever is the multiphasic response of elevation and decline of the body core temperature regulated by central thermoregulatory mechanisms localized in the preoptic area of the hypothalamus. The discovery that several proinflammatory cytokines act as endogenous pyrogens and that other cytokines can act as antipyretic agents provided a link between the immune and the central nervous systems and stimulated the study of the central actions of cytokines. The proinflammatory cytokines interleukin 1 (IL-1), interleukin 6 (IL-6) and the tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) as well as the antiinflammatory cytokines interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) and interleukin 10 (IL-10) have been most investigated for their pyrogenic or antipyretic action. The experimental evidence demonstrating the role of these secreted proteins in modulating the fever response is as follows: 1) association between cytokine levels in serum and CSF and fever; 2) finding of the presence of cytokine receptors on various cell types in the brain and demonstration of the effects of pharmacological application of cytokines and of their neutralizing antibodies on the fever response; 3) fever studies on cytokine- and cytokine receptor- transgenic models. Studies on the peripheral and the central action of cytokines demonstrated that peripheral cytokines can communicate with the brain in several ways including stimulation of afferent neuronal pathways and induction of the synthesis of a non cytokine pyrogen, i.e. PGE2, in endothelial cells in the periphery and in the brain. Cytokines synthesized in the periphery may act by crossing the blood brain barrier and acting directly via neuronal cytokine receptors. The mechanisms that ultimately mediate the central action of cytokines and of LPS on the temperature-sensitive neurons in the preoptic hypothalamic region involved in thermoregulation, directly or via second mediators, remain to be fully elucidated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Fever / immunology*
  • Hypothalamus / cytology
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptors


  • Cytokines
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Toll-Like Receptors