Molecular basis of sickness behavior

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1998 Sep 29:856:132-138. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1998.tb08321.x.


Peripheral and central injections of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a cytokine inducer, and recombinant proinflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) induce sickness behavior in the form of reduced food intake and decreased social activities. Mechanisms of the behavioral effects of cytokines have been the subject of much investigation during the last 3 years. At the behavioral level, the profound depressing effects of cytokines on behavior are the expression of a highly organized motivational state. At the molecular level, sickness behavior is mediated by an inducible brain cytokine compartment that is activated by peripheral cytokines via neural afferent pathways. Centrally produced cytokines act on brain cytokine receptors that are similar to those characterized on peripheral immune and nonimmune cells, as demonstrated by pharmacologic experiments using cytokine receptor antagonists, neutralizing antibodies to specific subtypes of cytokine receptors, and gene targeting techniques. Evidence exists that different components of sickness behavior are mediated by different cytokines and that the relative importance of these cytokines is not the same in the peripheral and central cytokine compartments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cytokines / pharmacology
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Disease* / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Lipopolysaccharides / toxicity
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • Social Behavior


  • Cytokines
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Recombinant Proteins