This term refers to the interdisciplinary field merging neurology, immunology, and aspects of neuroscience. It is a scientific and clinical domain. Scientifically, neuroimmunology tries to understand the bidirectional links between the nervous and immune systems and their implications to illnesses. Clinically, various “classical” neuroimmune diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis – MS) and recently more diseases are being recognized as being influenced by both the nervous and immune systems, including cancer and coronary heart disease. The biological underpinnings of neuroimmunology include the descending pathways from the brain to the immune system, manifested by innervation of lymph nodes, effects of stress hormones on immunity, and the presence of neurotransmitter receptors on immune cells (Dantzer et al. 2000). In parallel, ascending pathways include the vagus nerve, expressing receptors for interleukin-1, brain regions lacking the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and a “domino-like” effect of prostaglandins, an end point of inflammation, on both sides of the BBB (Dantzer et al. 2000; Tracey 2009). MS, for example, represents an inflammatory autoimmune insult on nerves, which eventually leads to the episodic and degenerative characteristic of this disease (Compston and Coles 2002). Understanding neuroimmune interactions has been pivotal for developing treatments for MS. Another extraordinary example is the work of Schwartz and colleagues who demonstrated that due to the “immune privilege” status of the brain, closed brain injuries may not undergo immune protection, while in contrast, following a homing intervention of T cells to the brain, recovery is accelerated (Schwartz and Moalem 2001). The relevance of neuroimmune interactions to other diseases has recently been claimed by researchers in relation to coronary heart disease (Gidron et al. 2007) and cancer (Gidron et al. 2005), based on multiple converging evidence. In cancer, for example, a new neuroimmunomodulation index, which reflects vagal activity over inflammation, was found to predict survival in two fatal cancers (Gidron et al. 2016). Further scientific efforts may hopefully reveal the clinical and therapeutic implications of such neuroimmune associations in different diseases.
References and Further Readings
- Gidron, Y., De Couck, M., Van Laethem, J. L., Schallier, D., De Greve, J., Mareshall, R. (2016). Paper to be presented at the PCS 2nd International Lung Cancer Symposium, Budapest.Google Scholar