Bidirectional interactions between the immune and the nervous systems are of considerable interest both for deciphering their functioning and for designing novel therapeutic strategies. The past decade has brought a burst of insights into the molecular mechanisms involved in neuroimmune communications mediated by dopamine. Studies of dendritic cells (DCs) revealed that they express the whole machinery to synthesize and store dopamine, which may act in an autocrine manner to stimulate dopamine receptors (DARs). Depending on specific DARs stimulated on DCs and T cells, dopamine may differentially favor CD4(+) T cell differentiation into Th1 or Th17 inflammatory cells. Regulatory T cells can also release high amounts of dopamine that acts in an autocrine DAR-mediated manner to inhibit their suppressive activity. These dopaminergic regulations could represent a driving force during autoimmunity. Indeed, dopamine levels are altered in the brain of mouse models of multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus, and in inflamed tissues of patients with inflammatory bowel diseases or rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The distorted expression of DARs in peripheral lymphocytes of lupus and MS patients also supports the importance of dopaminergic regulations in autoimmunity. Moreover, dopamine analogs had beneficial therapeutic effects in animal models, and in patients with lupus or RA. We propose models that may underlie key roles of dopamine and its receptors in autoimmune diseases.
Keywords: Crohn’s disease; Th17; dendritic cell; multiple sclerosis; regulatory T cell; rheumatoid arthritis; systemic lupus erythematosus; ulcerative colitis.