The pharmacology of fever

Prog Neurobiol. 1985;25(4):327-73. doi: 10.1016/0301-0082(85)90019-x.


The ability to minimise, if not prevent, large variations in deep body temperature that would otherwise result from some environmental conditions is a homeostatic function of unquestioned benefit that is demonstrated only by the more highly evolved animals. Nevertheless, body temperature is raised above normal values in many pathological conditions. This increase in temperature or fever is an active and co-ordinated response, which indicates the involvement of the CNS. Central injection and lesion studies have shown that the brain, in particular the PO/AH, is the site of action of fever-inducing agents, termed pyrogens. Electrophysiological data show that pyrogens modify the activity of central thermosensitive neurones as if to increase heat gain and decrease heat loss. The common response of fever to pyrogens of diverse origins is attributable to fever being mediated by an endogenous pyrogen released by phagocytic cells in the host. The mechanism by which central neuronal function is disturbed by pyrogens present in the periphery is not known. Tracer studies have yet to demonstrate the passage of a pyrogen across the blood-brain barrier. The possible involvement of several putative neurotransmitters and modulators in fever has been reviewed here, but most compounds have not been studied sufficiently to allow firm conclusions to be drawn. Much of the data is limited to the effects of the putative mediators on normal thermoregulation but, even when the effect is hyperthermia, such observations do not necessarily indicate a role for the endogenous material in fever. Dose-response curves for agonists and the effects of antagonists are often undetermined. This shortfall in data is due to some extent to the nature of fever; a central response in vivo over several hours. Although fever may enhance other host reactions to combat infection and inflammation, neither this benefit nor the undesirability of antipyretic therapy has been demonstrated unequivocally in either homeothermic laboratory animals or humans. Consequently, antipyretic drugs continue to be used clinically to alleviate the fever, malaise and/or pain commonly associated with disease. The drugs in common usage are the nonsteroidal antipyretic analgesics, many of which also have an anti-inflammatory effect. The primary mode of action of these drugs as antipyretics appears at present to be the inhibition of cyclo-oxygenase and a consequent reduction of prostanoid material in pyrogen-sensitive areas of the brain.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Amino Acids / physiology
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Biogenic Amines / physiology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cations / physiology
  • Eicosanoic Acids / physiology
  • Fever / drug therapy
  • Fever / physiopathology*
  • Histamine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nucleotides, Cyclic / physiology
  • Peptides / physiology
  • Pyrogens / metabolism
  • Pyrogens / pharmacology*
  • Pyrogens / physiology
  • Steroids / pharmacology
  • Steroids / therapeutic use


  • Amino Acids
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Biogenic Amines
  • Cations
  • Eicosanoic Acids
  • Nucleotides, Cyclic
  • Peptides
  • Pyrogens
  • Steroids
  • Histamine
  • Acetylcholine