Catecholamine influences and sympathetic neural modulation of immune responsiveness

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 1995;35:417-48. doi: 10.1146/


Primary and secondary lymphoid organs are innervated extensively by noradrenergic sympathetic nerve fibers. Lymphocytes, macrophages, and other cells of the immune system bear functional adrenoreceptors. Norepinephrine fulfills criteria for neurotransmission with cells of the immune system as targets. In vitro, adrenergic agonists can modulate all aspects of an immune response (initiative, proliferative, and effector phases), altering such functions as cytokine production, lymphocyte proliferation, and antibody secretion. In vivo, chemical sympathectomy suppresses cell-mediated (T helper-1) responses, and may enhance antibody (T helper-2) responses. Noradrenergic innervation of spleen and lymph nodes is diminished progressively during aging, a time when cell-mediated immune function also is suppressed. In animal models of autoimmune disease, sympathetic innervation is reduced prior to onset of disease symptoms, and chemical sympathectomy can exacerbate disease severity. These findings illustrate the importance of the sympathetic nervous system in modulating immune function under normal and disease states.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Lymphoid Tissue / innervation
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic / immunology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / immunology*


  • Catecholamines
  • Receptors, Adrenergic