Systemic infection and inflammation in acute CNS injury and chronic neurodegeneration: underlying mechanisms

Neuroscience. 2009 Feb 6;158(3):1062-73. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.07.031. Epub 2008 Jul 25.


We have all at some time experienced the non-specific symptoms that arise from being ill following a systemic infection. These symptoms, such as fever, malaise, lethargy and loss of appetite are often referred to as "sickness behavior" and are a consequence of systemically produced pro-inflammatory mediators. These inflammatory mediators signal to the brain, leading to activation of microglial cells, which in turn, signal to neurons to induce adaptive metabolic and behavioral changes. In normal healthy persons this response is a normal part of our defense, to protect us from infection, to maintain homeostasis and causes no damage to neurons. However, in animals and patients with chronic neurodegenerative disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke and even during normal aging, systemic inflammation leads to inflammatory responses in the brain, an exaggeration of clinical symptoms and increased neuronal death. These observations imply that, as the population ages and the number of individuals with CNS disorders increases, relatively common systemic infections and inflammation will become significant risk factors for disease onset or progression. In this review we discuss the underlying mechanisms responsible for sickness behavior induced by systemic inflammation in the healthy brain and how they might be different in individuals with CNS pathology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / microbiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Encephalitis / immunology*
  • Encephalitis / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Illness Behavior / physiology*
  • Infections / immunology*
  • Infections / physiopathology
  • Nerve Degeneration / immunology*
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / immunology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / immunology