Cytokine-induced sickness behavior was recognized within a few years of the cloning and expression of interferon-alpha, IL-1 and IL-2, which occurred around the time that the first issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity was published in 1987. Phase I clinical trials established that injection of recombinant cytokines into cancer patients led to a variety of psychological disturbances. It was subsequently shown that physiological concentrations of proinflammatory cytokines that occur after infection act in the brain to induce common symptoms of sickness, such as loss of appetite, sleepiness, withdrawal from normal social activities, fever, aching joints and fatigue. This syndrome was defined as sickness behavior and is now recognized to be part of a motivational system that reorganizes the organism's priorities to facilitate recovery from the infection. Cytokines convey to the brain that an infection has occurred in the periphery, and this action of cytokines can occur via the traditional endocrine route via the blood or by direct neural transmission via the afferent vagus nerve. The finding that sickness behavior occurs in all mammals and birds indicates that communication between the immune system and brain has been evolutionarily conserved and forms an important physiological adaptive response that favors survival of the organism during infections. The fact that cytokines act in the brain to induce physiological adaptations that promote survival has led to the hypothesis that inappropriate, prolonged activation of the innate immune system may be involved in a number of pathological disturbances in the brain, ranging from Alzheimer's disease to stroke. Conversely, the newly-defined role of cytokines in a wide variety of systemic co-morbid conditions, ranging from chronic heart failure to obesity, may begin to explain changes in the mental state of these subjects. Indeed, the newest findings of cytokine actions in the brain offer some of the first clues about the pathophysiology of certain mental health disorders, including depression. The time is ripe to begin to move these fundamental discoveries in mice to man and some of the pharmacological tools are already available to antagonize the detrimental actions of cytokines.