The endocrine and immune systems are interrelated via a bidirectional network in which hormones affect immune function and, in turn, immune responses are reflected in neuroendocrine changes. This bidirectional communication is possible because both systems share a common "chemical language" that results from a sharing of common ligands (hormones and cytokines) and their specific receptors. Cytokines are important partners in this crosstalk. They play a role in modulating the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses at all three levels: the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenals. Acute effects of cytokines are produced at the central nervous system level, particularly the hypothalamus, whereas pituitary and adrenal actions are slower and are probably involved during prolonged exposure to cytokines such as during chronic inflammation or infection. Several mechanisms have been proposed by which peripheral cytokines may gain access to the brain. They include an active transport through the blood-brain barrier, a passage at the circumventricular organ level, as well as a neuronal pathway through the vagal nerve. The immune-neuroendocrine interactions are involved in numerous physiological and pathophysiological conditions and the interactions with the HPA axis may represent a mechanism through which the immune system, by stimulating the production of glucocorticoids, avoids an overshoot of inflammatory response. They may also be involved in the state of hypogonadism, of hypothyroidism and growth inhibition which can occur during inflammatory and infectious diseases. The crosstalk between the immune and endocrine systems is important to homeostasis, since the interactions can produce various appropriate adaptative responses when homeostasis is threatened.
Gaillard RC. Interactions between the immune and neuroendocrine systems: clinical implications. J Soc Biol. 2003 May Division d'Endocrinologie, Diabétologie et Métabolisme, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois-CHUV, CH-1011 Lausanne, Suisse.