The neuroimmune connection in human tonsils

Brain Behav Immun. 1991 Mar;5(1):41-54. doi: 10.1016/0889-1591(91)90006-v.


The present light microscopic immunohistochemical study evaluates the distribution of peptidergic nerve fibers in human tonsil and describes their spatial relationship with specific cells of the immune system. Further, using a panneural marker protein gene product (PGP) 9.5, a qualitative evaluation of the density of specific peptidergic innervation of the human tonsil was performed. Nerve fibers staining for tachykinins, calcitonin gene-related peptide, neuropeptide Y, or vasoactive intestinal polypeptide/peptide histidine isoleucine showed characteristic distribution patterns, but constituted only a minor subfraction of the PGP 9.5-stained fiber population. Both peptide- and PGP 9.5-immunopositive fibers predominantly supplied the vasculature; nonvascular areas were less densely innervated. Double staining for surface antigens thought to be associated with subsets of lymphoid cells, i.e., T-cells, B-cells, granulocytes, and macrophages, and for peptides or PGP 9.5 revealed close proximity of characteristic subpopulations of neurochemically defined nerve fibers and the various immune cells. The presence of peptidergic nerve fibers among T-cells was more prevalent than peptidergic nerve fibers adjacent to macrophages. Few positively stained nerve fibers resided in B-cell compartments. Neuro-B-cell interrelations were extremely infrequent. Neuroimmune connections were restricted to paravascular, subepithelial, and interfollicular regions, while germinal centers were devoid of nerve supply. The results are compatible with the view that peptides, being present in small-diameter nerve fibers, could exert an indirect immunoregulatory role by influencing vascular tone and/or permeability. In quantitative terms, a direct neuroimmunomodulatory action of endogenous neurally derived peptides appears to be of minor importance, because nonvascular neuroimmune circuits were found infrequently and were regionally restricted. However, we cannot be sure that all fibers were stained. The functional state of the peptidergic and nonpeptidergic innervation of the human palatine tonsil may be of physiological and pathophysiological significance within the psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrine network. The peptide-coded neuroimmune link may play a role in tonsillar pain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Child
  • Female
  • Granulocytes
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lymphocytes
  • Macrophages
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers / chemistry
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology*
  • Neuropeptides / analysis*
  • Neuropeptides / physiology
  • Palatine Tonsil / cytology
  • Palatine Tonsil / immunology
  • Palatine Tonsil / innervation*
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase


  • Biomarkers
  • Neuropeptides
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase