Stress and immunity: an integrated view of relationships between the brain and the immune system

Life Sci. 1989;44(26):1995-2008. doi: 10.1016/0024-3205(89)90345-7.


The old notion that stress exacerbates the progression of physical illness via its corticosteroid-mediated immunosuppressive effects must be revised. Experimental and clinical studies demonstrate that both laboratory and natural stressors alter the activities of lymphocytes and macrophages in a complex way that depends on the type of immune response, the physical and psychological characteristics of the stressor and the timing of stress relative to the induction and expression of the immune event. The influences of stress on immunity are mediated not only by glucocorticoids but also by catecholamines, endogenous opioids and pituitary hormones such as growth hormone. Sensitivity of the immune system to stress is not simply fortuitous but is an indirect consequence of the regulatory reciprocal influences that exist between the immune system and the central nervous system. The immune system receives signals from the brain and the neuroendocrine system via the autonomic nervous system and hormones and sends information to the brain via cytokines. These connections appear to be part of a long-loop regulatory feedback system that plays an important role in the coordination of behavioral and physiological responses to infection and inflammation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Factors / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cytokines
  • Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / immunology*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology


  • Biological Factors
  • Cytokines
  • Hormones
  • Neurotransmitter Agents