Sympathetic Nervous System and Inflammation: A Conceptual View

Auton Neurosci. 2014 May;182:4-14. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2014.01.004. Epub 2014 Jan 18.


The peripheral sympathetic nervous system is organized into function-specific pathways that transmit the activity from the central nervous system to its target tissues. The transmission of the impulse activity in the sympathetic ganglia and to the effector tissues is target cell specific and guarantees that the centrally generated command is faithfully transmitted. This is the neurobiological basis of autonomic regulations in which the sympathetic nervous system is involved. Each sympathetic pathway is connected to distinct central circuits in the spinal cord, lower and upper brain stem and hypothalamus. In addition to its conventional functions, the sympathetic nervous system is involved in protection of body tissues against challenges arising from the environment as well as from within the body. This function includes the modulation of inflammation, nociceptors and above all the immune system. Primary and secondary lymphoid organs are innervated by sympathetic postganglionic neurons and processes in the immune tissue are modulated by activity in these sympathetic neurons via adrenoceptors in the membranes of the immune cells (see Bellinger and Lorton, 2014). Are the primary and secondary lymphoid organs innervated by a functionally specific sympathetic pathway that is responsible for the modulation of the functioning of the immune tissue by the brain? Or is this modulation of immune functions a general function of the sympathetic nervous system independent of its specific functions? Which central circuits are involved in the neural regulation of the immune system in the context of neural regulation of body protection? What is the function of the sympatho-adrenal system, involving epinephrine, in the modulation of immune functions?

Keywords: Immune system; Inflammation; Nociception and pain; Protection of body tissues; Sympathetic nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / immunology*