Alterations in immune cells and mediators in the brain: it's not always neuroinflammation!

Brain Pathol. 2014 Nov;24(6):623-30. doi: 10.1111/bpa.12198.


Neuroinflammation was once a clearly defined term denoting pathological immune processes within the central nervous system (CNS). Historically, this term was used to indicate the four hallmarks of peripheral inflammaton that occur following severe CNS injuries, such as stroke, injury or infection. Recently, however, the definition of neuroinflammation has relaxed to the point that it is often now assumed to be present when even only a single classical hallmark of inflammation is measured. As a result, a wide range of disorders, from psychiatric to degenerative diseases, are now assumed to have an integral inflammatory component. Ironically, at the same time, research has revealed unexpected nonclassical immune actions of immune mediators and cells in the CNS in the absence of pathology, increasing the likelihood that homeostatic and adaptive immune processes in the CNS will be mistaken for neuroinflammation. Thus, we suggest reserving the term neuroinflammation for contexts where multiple signs of inflammation are present to avoid erroneously classifying disorders as inflammatory when they may instead be caused by nonimmune etiologies or secondary immune processes that serve adaptive roles.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; T cells; autism; cytokines; microglia; schizophrenia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Microglia / physiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology


  • Cytokines