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Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a branch of science that studies the interactions between the nervous system, endocrine system, immune system, and the subsequent effects of these interactions upon disease development/progression. The most appropriate name for the current field should be psychoneuroendocrinimmunology (PNEI), because of this bidirectional communication betwenn the 3 systems.

The term psychoneuroimmunology was coined by Robert Ader, a researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. In the 1970s, studies by Ader and other researchers opened up new understandings of how experiences such as stress and anxiety can affect a person's immune system.

Many PNI studies have focused on how stress, hostility, and depression impact the immune system. These numerous studies have revealed that there is a direct correlation between the patient's desire to get well and the outcome of a disease. Many conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, delayed wound healing, and premature aging, are related to stress and negative emotions.

Researchers emphasize that they are not simply providing scientific backing for beliefs that happy people live longer, or that people who hold in their anger give themselves cancer. Instead, they are discovering how the immune system communicates with the neurological and endocrine systems.

Some studies focus on the function of cytokines, which are substances secreted by cells of the immune system. The two main classes of cytokines are pro-inflammatory (producing inflammation) and anti-inflammatory (fighting inflammation). Studies of cytokines show that psychological factors such as stress depress the immune system, but that deviations in the immune system can also trigger psychological and behavioral changes. The communication goes both ways.

A person, who is fighting infection, perhaps from a cold, undergoes behavioral changes like fatigue, irritability, and loss of appetite. PNI maps complex interactions among the body's systems. Factors studied include mood, illness, immune response, susceptibility to disease, and maintenance of health.


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