The immune system and hypertension

Immunol Res. 2014 Aug;59(1-3):243-53. doi: 10.1007/s12026-014-8548-6.


A powerful interaction between the autonomic and the immune systems plays a prominent role in the initiation and maintenance of hypertension and significantly contributes to cardiovascular pathology, end-organ damage and mortality. Studies have shown consistent association between hypertension, proinflammatory cytokines and the cells of the innate and adaptive immune systems. The sympathetic nervous system, a major determinant of hypertension, innervates the bone marrow, spleen and peripheral lymphatic system and is proinflammatory, whereas the parasympathetic nerve activity dampens the inflammatory response through α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. The neuro-immune synapse is bidirectional as cytokines may enhance the sympathetic activity through their central nervous system action that in turn increases the mobilization, migration and infiltration of immune cells in the end organs. Kidneys may be infiltrated by immune cells and mesangial cells that may originate in the bone marrow and release inflammatory cytokines that cause renal damage. Hypertension is also accompanied by infiltration of the adventitia and perivascular adipose tissue by inflammatory immune cells including macrophages. Increased cytokine production induces myogenic and structural changes in the resistance vessels, causing elevated blood pressure. Cardiac hypertrophy in hypertension may result from the mechanical afterload and the inflammatory response to resident or migratory immune cells. Toll-like receptors on innate immune cells function as sterile injury detectors and initiate the inflammatory pathway. Finally, abnormalities of innate immune cells and the molecular determinants of their activation that include toll-like receptor, adrenergic, cholinergic and AT1 receptors can define the severity of inflammation in hypertension. These receptors are putative therapeutic targets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / immunology*
  • Hypertension / pathology
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Myocardium / immunology
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / immunology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / pathology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Portraits as Topic
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / immunology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / pathology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Toll-Like Receptors / immunology
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor / immunology


  • Cytokines
  • Toll-Like Receptors
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor