Neurotransmitters activate T-cells and elicit crucial functions via neurotransmitter receptors

Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2008 Aug;8(4):460-71. doi: 10.1016/j.coph.2008.05.001. Epub 2008 Jun 23.


Neurotransmitters are traditionally viewed as nerve-secreted molecules that trigger or inhibit neuronal functions. Yet, neurotransmitters bind also their neurotransmitter receptors in T-cells and directly activate or suppress T-cell functions. This review focuses only on the activating effects of neurotransmitters on T-cells, primarily naïve/resting cells, and covers dopamine, glutamate, serotonin, and few neuropeptides: GnRH-I, GnRH-II, substance P, somatostatin, CGRP, and neuropeptide Y. T-cells express many neurotransmitter receptors. These are regulated by TCR-activation, cytokines, or the neurotransmitters themselves, and are upregulated/downregulated in some human diseases. The context - whether the T-cells are naïve/resting or antigen/mitogen/cytokine-activated, the T-cell subset (CD4/CD8/Th1/Th2/Teff/Treg), neurotransmitter dose (low/optimal or high/excess), exact neurotransmitter receptors expressed, and the cytokine milieu - is crucial, and can determine either activation or suppression of T-cells by the same neurotransmitter. T-cells also produce many neurotransmitters. In summary, neurotransmitters activate vital T-cell functions in a direct, potent and specific manner, and may serve for communicating between the brain and the immune system to elicit an effective and orchestrated immune function, and for new therapeutic avenues, to improve T-cell eradication of cancer and infectious organisms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autocrine Communication / immunology
  • Autocrine Communication / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology
  • Immunologic Factors / physiology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology*
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology*


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter