Regulation of natural killer cell activity by glucocorticoids, serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine
The immune system and the nervous system are highly complex organs composed of various different cells that must interact with each other for proper function of the system. This communication can be mediated by soluble factors. The factors released by the nervous system (neurotransmitters) differ from those released by the immune system (cytokines). Nevertheless, the nervous and immune systems can influence each other's activity because immune cells express neurotransmitter receptors, and neurons express cytokine receptors. Moreover, immune cells can synthesize and release neurotransmitters themselves, thus using neurotransmitter-mediated pathways via autocrine and paracrine mechanisms. Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes that are important for early and effective immune reactions against infections and cancer. Many studies have shown the strong influence of stress and the nervous system on NK cell activity. This phenomenon may be one reason why chronic stress leads to a higher incidence of infections and cancer. Here, we review the effects of neuroendocrine factors on the different activities of NK cells. Understanding the effects of neuroendocrine factors on NK cell activities during physiological and pathophysiological conditions may result in novel therapeutic strategies to enhance NK cell functions against tumors.