Broader Insights into Understanding Tumor Necrosis Factor and Neurodegenerative Disease Pathogenesis Infer New Therapeutic Approaches

J Alzheimers Dis. 2021;79(3):931-948. doi: 10.3233/JAD-201186.


Proinflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), with its now appreciated key roles in neurophysiology as well as neuropathophysiology, are sufficiently well-documented to be useful tools for enquiry into the natural history of neurodegenerative diseases. We review the broader literature on TNF to rationalize why abruptly-acquired neurodegenerative states do not exhibit the remorseless clinical progression seen in those states with gradual onsets. We propose that the three typically non-worsening neurodegenerative syndromes, post-stroke, post-traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post cardiac arrest, usually become and remain static because of excess cerebral TNF induced by the initial dramatic peak keeping microglia chronically activated through an autocrine loop of microglial activation through excess cerebral TNF. The existence of this autocrine loop rationalizes post-damage repair with perispinal etanercept and proposes a treatment for cerebral aspects of COVID-19 chronicity. Another insufficiently considered aspect of cerebral proinflammatory cytokines is the fitness of the endogenous cerebral anti-TNF system provided by norepinephrine (NE), generated and distributed throughout the brain from the locus coeruleus (LC). We propose that an intact LC, and therefore an intact NE-mediated endogenous anti-cerebral TNF system, plus the DAMP (damage or danger-associated molecular pattern) input having diminished, is what allows post-stroke, post-TBI, and post cardiac arrest patients a strong long-term survival advantage over Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease sufferers. In contrast, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease patients remorselessly worsen, being handicapped by sustained, accumulating, DAMP and PAMP (pathogen-associated molecular patterns) input, as well as loss of the LC-origin, NE-mediated, endogenous anti-cerebral TNF system. Adrenergic receptor agonists may counter this.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; cardiac arrest survival; locus coeruleus; neurological COVID-19; norepinephrine; stroke; traumatic brain injury; tumor necrosis factor.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / therapy
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / physiopathology
  • COVID-19 / therapy
  • Disease Progression
  • Etanercept / therapeutic use
  • Heart Arrest / diagnosis
  • Heart Arrest / physiopathology
  • Heart Arrest / therapy
  • Humans
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiopathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / diagnosis
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / therapy
  • Norepinephrine / physiology
  • Parkinson Disease / diagnosis
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Parkinson Disease / therapy
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Stroke / diagnosis
  • Stroke / physiopathology*
  • Stroke / therapy
  • Survivors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / physiology*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Etanercept
  • Norepinephrine