Nervous and immune systems mutually cooperate via release of mediators of both neurological and immunological derivation. Adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) is a product of the hypothalamus-pituitary adrenal axis (HPAA) which stimulates secretion of corticosteroids from adrenals. In turn, corticosteroids modulate the immune response in virtue of their anti-inflammatory activity. On the other hand, catecholamines, products of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), regulate immune function by acting on specific β-adrenergic receptors. Conversely, cytokines released by monocytes/macrophages and lymphocytes, upon antigenic stimulation, are able to cross the blood-brain-barrier, thus modulating nervous functions (e.g., thermoregulation, sleep, and appetite). However, cytokines are locally produced in the brain, especially in the hypothalamus, thus contributing to the development of anorexic, pyrogenic, somnogenic and behavioural effects. Besides pathogens and/or their products, the so-called stressors are able to activate both HPAA and SNS, thus influencing immune responses. In this respect, many studies conducted in medical students taking exams have evidenced an array of stress-induced immune alterations. Phobic disorders and migraine without aura (MWA) represent examples of stress-related disorders in which phagocytic immune deficits, endotoxemia and exaggerated levels of proinflammatory cytokines [Tumor Necrosis Factor-α (TNF- α), and interleukin- 1 β] have been detected. Quite interestingly, administration of a thymic hormone could ameliorate clinical symptoms in phobic patients. In MWA patients, a β-blocker, propranolol, could mitigate migraine, whose cessation coincided with a drop of TNF-α serum concentration. In phobic disorders and in MWA, benzodiazepines are very often administered and, in this respect, some of them, such as diazepam, inhibit immune functions, while others, e.g., alprazolam, enhance immune responses. Alprazolam could improve clinical symptoms in MWA patients. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a disorder whose etiology and pathogenesis are still unknown. In this syndrome both abnormalities of nervous and immune systems have been reported. Despite many immune parameters evaluated in CFS no specific biomarkers of disease have been found. Our own data are in agreement with current literature in that we found decreased levels of serum (IFN)-g in these patients, thus indicating a predominance of T helper (h)1 response in CFS. Also leptin, a hormone which regulates food intake, fluctuates within normal ranges in CFS individuals. Quite interestingly, in depressed patients, used as controls, leptinaemia was more elevated than in CFS. Finally, in a series of recent therapeutic trials several immunomodulating agents have been used, such as staphypan Berna, lactic acid bacteria, kuibitang and intravenous immunoglobulin. In conclusion, it seems that major drug targets in stress-related disorders are immune cells in terms of inhibition of proinflammatory cytokines and modulation of Th responses. In particular, according to recent evidences, antidepressants seem to exert beneficial effects in experimental autoimmune neuritis in rats by decreasing IFN- β release or augmenting NK activity in depressed patients.
chronic fatigue syndrome, cytokines, immune system, migraine, nervous system, neurohormones, neuropeptides, phobic disorders
Immunologia, Policlinico, Piazza Giulio Cesare 4, 70124, Bari Italy.