Experimental Immunomodulation, Sleep, and Sleepiness in Humans


a Address for correspondence: Thomas Pollmächer, M.D., Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Kraepelinstrasse 10, 80804 Munich, Germany. Voice: +49-89-30622-572; fax: +49-89-30622-562 topo@mpipsykl.mpg.de


Abstract: Infection, inflammation, and autoimmune processes are accompanied by serious disturbances of well-being, psychosocial functioning, cognitive performance, and behavior. Here we review those studies that have investigated the effects of experimental immunomodulation on sleep and sleepiness in humans. In most of these studies bacterial endotoxin was injected intravenously to model numerous aspects of infection including the release of inflammatory cytokines. These studies show that human sleep-wake behavior is very sensitive to host defense activation. Small amounts of endotoxin, which affect neither body temperature nor neuroendocrine systems but slightly stimulate the secretion of inflammatory cytokines, promote non-rapid-eye-movement sleep amount and intensity. Febrile host responses, in contrast, go along with prominent sleep disturbances. According to present knowledge tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) is most probably a key mediator of these effects, although it is likely that disturbed sleep during febrile host responses involves endocrine systems as well. There is preliminary evidence from human studies suggesting that inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α not only mediate altered sleep-wake behavior during infections, but in addition are involved in physiological sleep regulation and in hypnotic effects of established sedating drugs.