Cytokines mediate and control immune and inflammatory responses. Complex interactions exist between cytokines, inflammation and the adaptive responses in maintaining homeostasis, health, and well-being. Like the stress response, the inflammatory reaction is crucial for survival and is meant to be tailored to the stimulus and time. A full-fledged systemic inflammatory reaction results in stimulation of four major programs: the acute-phase reaction, the sickness syndrome, the pain program, and the stress response, mediated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system. Common human diseases such as atopy/allergy, autoimmunity, chronic infections and sepsis are characterized by a dysregulation of the pro- versus anti-inflammatory and T helper (Th)1 versus Th2 cytokine balance. Recent evidence also indicates the involvement of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis and major depression, and conditions such as visceral-type obesity, metabolic syndrome and sleep disturbances. During inflammation, the activation of the stress system, through induction of a Th2 shift, protects the organism from systemic 'overshooting' with Th1/pro-inflammatory cytokines. Under certain conditions, however, stress hormones may actually facilitate inflammation through induction of interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6, IL-8, IL-18, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and C-reactive protein production and through activation of the corticotropin-releasing hormone/substance P-histamine axis. Thus, a dysfunctional neuroendocrine-immune interface associated with abnormalities of the 'systemic anti-inflammatory feedback' and/or 'hyperactivity' of the local pro-inflammatory factors may play a role in the pathogenesis of atopic/allergic and autoimmune diseases, obesity, depression, and atherosclerosis. These abnormalities and the failure of the adaptive systems to resolve inflammation affect the well-being of the individual, including behavioral parameters, quality of life and sleep, as well as indices of metabolic and cardiovascular health. These hypotheses require further investigation, but the answers should provide critical insights into mechanisms underlying a variety of common human immune-related diseases.
Copyright (c) 2005 S. Karger AG, Basel