Experimental and clinical data provide evidence for the lifelong reciprocal influence of mammalian neuroendocrine and immune systems. The functions of these systems change during ontogeny. In the perinatal period, the neuroendocrine system has both regulatory and morphogenetic functions: during early ontogeny, neurohormones stimulate the growth and differentiation of fetal tissues, including the lymphoid tissue. In postnatal life, effects of many hormones on the immune system are apparently unspecific: their function is mainly to maintain its homeostasis in the changing environment. Thymic peptides regulate the production of hormones, neuropeptides, and cytokines both in the thymus and in the hypothalamus, pituitary, and gonads. The perinatal period is critical for the complete structural and functional development of these systems. Disturbances in neuroendocrine-immune interactions at this stage result in longlasting predisposition to various pathologies in adulthood. The plasticity of physiological systems in the perinatal period allows the environmental factors acting on the mother and fetus to alter the functions of certain organs and tissues, providing for fetal adaptation to adverse conditions. Exposure to stress, adverse environmental factors, etc., as well as mothers improper diet and behavior during pregnancy and breast feeding put the young at risk for autoimmune, allergic, metabolic, psychic, and nervous disorders during adult life. The possibility of using neurohormones for treating immunodeficiencies caused by various adverse factors is discussed. The review also includes recent patents relevant to the problem at issue.
Keywords: HPA axis, immune system, thymus, thymic peptides, neurohormones, prenatal stress, environmental factors, perinatal programming, plasticity of physiological systems, epigenetic regulation, allergy
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