Introduction: Overview of the Conference and the Field


Address for correspondence: Esther M. Sternberg, M.D., NIMH/NIH, Bldg. 10, Rm. 2D-46, 10 Center Dr., MSC 1248, Bethesda, MD 20892.


Abstract: The field of neuroimmune interactions is a prime example of interdisciplinary research spanning immunology, neurobiology, neuroen-docrinology, and behavioral sciences. It also exemplifies research from the molecular to the clinical domain. The greatest challenge of the field, which this conference seeks to stimulate, is research that is at the same time precise, focused, and integrative. Several levels of interdisciplinary overlap will be highlighted. At the molecular level, neuro- and immune mediator molecules or their receptors may be members of the same superfamily or may regulate each other's expression or function. Most extensively studied are cytokine-neuropeptide/neurotransmitter interactions, including expression of cytokines within the central nervous system and production of neuropeptides by immune cells or at inflammatory sites. Advances relating cytokine-neurohormone interactions to mechanisms of apoptosis will ultimately shed light on the role of neuroimmune interactions in neuronal cell death and survival and immune cell selection, processes important in neuronal plasticity and immune specificity. At a systems level, advances have been made in cross-disciplinary application of modes of thinking. Incorporation of neurobiology's appreciation of anatomical organization, endocrinology's temporal dimension of neurohormonal secretion, and immunology's understanding of stimulus specificity all contribute to a more precise definition of how these complex systems interact at multiple levels. More precise understanding of effects of disruptions of these communications on disease susceptibility and expression will clarify how perturbations of one system, such as stimulation of the neuroendocrine stress response, might affect expression of disease in the other, such as autoimmune/inflammatory or infectious diseases.