Psychoneuroendocrine immunology: Site of recognition, learning and memory in the immune system and the brain

Academic Article


  • How the interaction between the brain and immune system takes place has not been clearly defined. Because multiple changes are occurring simultaneously in all organ systems (eg., cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive, renal, respiratory, immune, CNS), how many single systems interacts with the brain becomes extraordinarily difficult to understand. The problem boils down to developing an approach that not only allows one to study the whole organism and define the mediators of the inter-acting systems, but also permit one to establish the connection and physiologic relevance of the responses that are being evaluated. Conditioning, a phenomenon made popular by the work of Pavlov (1906, 1927), may provide insight into the pathways of communication between the brain and possibly any organ system of the body. Conditioning allows one to separate the afferent from the efferent circuits. That is, signals from the immune system to the CNS (IS → CNS) can be effectively separated from signals from the CNS to immune system (CNS → IS). This permits one to study each pathway individually. Simple, single association trial models to condition fever, natural killer (NK) cell and cytotoxic lymphocyte (CTL) activities have been developed to evaluate the pathways. Single trial learning is not new. Parlor has observed that 'The electric buzzer set going before administration of food established a conditioned alimentary reflex after only a single combination,' whereas the reverse order of presentation failed to condition the animal (Pavlov 1927 p. 27). Thus, conditioning can be used to train the brain to activate the immune system and other organ systems participating in the response. During the course of the conditioned response, presumably the CNS via the hypothalamus integrates in a cohesive orderly fashion all input and output signals and coordinates the responses made by the brain to the organ systems. The odor of camphor, the conditioned stimulus (CS) can be associated with the response produced by an unconditioned stimulus (US). The unconditioned stimuli used are poly I:C to raise fever and nonimmunospecific NK cell activity or alloantigens to raise immunospecific CTL activity. The unconditioned stimulus serves only as a means to activate the immune system and unbalance the homeostasis so that a transient but new bidirectional communication loop can be established between the immune system and the CNS (IS mutually implies CNS). The expression of the conditioned response (i.e., elevation of fever, NK cell, or CTL activity) induced with the CS (odor stimulus) is an outcome of neural activity (CNS → IS). This infers that during conditioning, the signals generated by the CS and US imprints a neural pathway located within the central nervous system and leaves behind a CS/US memory of the association. The immune activity (NK cell or CTL activity) which is modulated indicate that the memory pathway was activated in the brain of the animal expressing the conditioned response. The immune cells that are modulated can be considered to be casual bystander cells. These cells however must be in the proper (ready) state of activation to receive salient signals from the brain. Along with changes in the indicator cell population, other complex physiological processes are altered by the brain via sympathetic and neuroendocrine pathways to raise the fever response. These observations suggest that the physiological changes which are being evaluated such as fever, NK cell or CTL activities or perhaps blood pressure, heart rate, fat metabolism, oxygen consumption serve only as indicators (readouts), and infer that the CNS has made a coordinated reply in response to the CS signal.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Hiramoto RN; Rogers CF; Demissie S; Hsueh CM; Hiramoto NS; Lorden JF; Ghanta VK
  • Start Page

  • 259
  • End Page

  • 286
  • Volume

  • 92
  • Issue

  • 3-4