Philosophical Society of Washington

Brain-Immune Interactions in Health and Disease: Implications for Susceptibility to Arthritis and Infectious Disease

Esther M. Sternberg
National Institute of Mental Health

2121 Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 20, 2000 at 8:15 p.m.


This lecture will outline scientific advances in understanding the communication networks between the nervous and immune systems: the scientific underpinning of the popular mind-body interaction. The idea that the mind and negative or positive states of mind, such as psychological stress or well-being, can influence health and disease has been in the popular culture for thousands of years. Recent scientific advances prove that there is a molecular, cellular, neuroanatomical and neurohormonal basis for communication between the brain and the immune system. Through such communications the nervous and immune systems interact and modify each other's functions. Interruptions of this interaction, on a genetic, drug-induced or surgical basis, lead to enhanced susceptibility to inflammatory disease. Over-activity of the neuroendocrine component of these interactions, such as occurs during stress, is associated with exacerbations of, or increased susceptibility to, infectious disease. On the basis of such findings, new drug treatments are currently being developed, such as the use of anti-inflammatory drugs in Alzheimer's, anti-stress hormone drugs in arthritis or neurotransmitter related drugs for improving immune responses associated with aging.

About the Author:

Esther Sternberg received her M.D. degree and trained in Rheumatology at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. She did post-doctoral training at Washington University, Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, MO, in the Division of Allergy and Immunology. She was subsequently a Howard Hughes Associate and Instructor in Medicine at Washington University and Barnes Hospital, before joining the National Institutes of Health in 1986. She is currently director of the Integrative Neural-Immune Program and chief of the Section on Neuroendocrine Immunology and Behavior, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health. She is the author of The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Emotions and Health (W.H. Freeman and Company) .

Find her book at

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