Although once considered heresy, the notion that meaningful interactions occur between the brain and the immune system has become scientific dogma. This change in scientific orthodoxy results from more than 30 years of research demonstrating that brain-mediated events, such as psychological stress and depression, can alter peripheral immune system functioning and, conversely, that changes in peripheral immune functioning, such as those that occur during illness, can profoundly affect the brain, leading to clinically meaningful changes in mood, anxiety, and cognition. In this chapter, we provide an overview of brain-immune system interactions that are of potential relevance to the field of psychiatry.
This effort needs to be understood within the far wider context of psychoneuroimmunology, which is the interdisciplinary field that focuses on brain-mind-immune system interactions. When Robert Ader first coined the term psychoneuroimmunology as a title for his textbook on brain-immune system interactions in 1981, the resulting text filled a single slim volume (Ader 1981). In contrast, the most recent edition fills two volumes, each running more than 1,000 pages, and covers topics as diverse as gene-ribonucleic acid interactions within the cellular nucleus and the effects of spirituality on the immune system (Ader 2007).
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