Neuroendocrine-immune interaction: Evolutionarily conserved mechanisms that maintain allostasis in an ever-changing environment

Dev Comp Immunol. 2017 Jan:66:2-23. doi: 10.1016/j.dci.2016.05.015. Epub 2016 Jun 11.


It has now become accepted that the immune system and neuroendocrine system form an integrated part of our physiology. Immunological defense mechanisms act in concert with physiological processes like growth and reproduction, energy intake and metabolism, as well as neuronal development. Not only are psychological and environmental stressors communicated to the immune system, but also, vice versa, the immune response and adaptation to a current pathogen challenge are communicated to the entire body, including the brain, to evoke adaptive responses (e.g., fever, sickness behavior) that ensure allocation of energy to fight the pathogen. This phenomenon is evolutionarily conserved. Hence it is both interesting and important to consider the evolutionary history of this bi-directional neuroendocrine-immune communication to reveal phylogenetically ancient or relatively recently acquired mechanisms. Indeed, such considerations have already disclosed an extensive "common vocabulary" of information pathways as well as molecules and their receptors used by both the neuroendocrine and immune systems. This review focuses on the principal mechanisms of bi-directional communication and the evidence for evolutionary conservation of the important physiological pathways involved.

Keywords: Blood brain barrier; Homeostasis; Leukocytes; Neuroendocrine-immune interaction; Psychoneuroimmunology; Receptor interaction; Stress axis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Immune System*
  • Neuroimmunomodulation*
  • Neurosecretory Systems*
  • Stress, Physiological*