The immune and neuroendocrine systems are closely involved in the regulation of metabolism at peripheral and central hypothalamic levels. In both physiological (meals) and pathological (infections, traumas and tumors) conditions immune cells are activated responding with the release of cytokines and other immune mediators (afferent signals). In the hypothalamus (central integration), cytokines influence metabolism by acting on nucleus involved in feeding and homeostasis regulation leading to the acute phase response (efferent signals) aimed to maintain the body integrity.
Peripheral administration of cytokines, inoculation of tumor and induction of infection alter, by means of cytokine action, the normal pattern of food intake affecting meal size and meal number suggesting that cytokines acted differentially on specific hypothalamic neurons. The effect of cytokines-related cancer anorexia is also exerted peripherally. Increase plasma concentrations of insulin and free tryptophan and decrease gastric emptying and d-xylose absorption. In addition, in obesity an increase in interleukin (IL)-1 and IL-6 occurs in mesenteric fat tissue, which together with an increase in corticosterone, is associated with hyperglycemia, dyslipidemias and insulin resistance of obesity-related metabolic syndrome. These changes in circulating nutrients and hormones are sensed by hypothalamic neurons that influence food intake and metabolism.
In anorectic tumor-bearing rats, we detected upregulation of IL-1β and IL-1 receptor mRNA levels in the hypothalamus, a negative correlation between IL-1 concentration in cerebro-spinal fluid and food intake and high levels of hypothalamic serotonin, and these differences disappeared after tumor removal. Moreover, there is an interaction between serotonin and IL-1 in the development of cancer anorexia as well as an increase in hypothalamic dopamine and serotonin production. Immunohistochemical studies have shown a decrease in neuropeptide Y (NPY) and dopamine (DA) and an increase in serotonin concentration in tumor-bearing rats, in first- and second-order hypothalamic nuclei, while tumor resection reverted these changes and normalized food intake, suggesting negative regulation of NPY and DA systems by cytokines during anorexia, probably mediated by serotonin that appears to play a pivotal role in the regulation of food intake in cancer.
Among the different forms of therapy, nutritional manipulation of diet in tumor-bearing state has been investigated. Supplementation of tumor bearing rats with ω-3 fatty acid vs. control diet delayed the appearance of tumor, reduced tumor-growth rate and volume, negated onset of anorexia, increased body weight, decreased cytokines production and increased expression of NPY and decreased α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) in hypothalamic nuclei. These data suggest that ω-3 fatty acid suppressed pro-inflammatory cytokines production and improved food intake by normalizing hypothalamic food intake-related peptides and point to the possibility of a therapeutic use of these fatty acids.
The sum of these data support the concept that immune cell-derived cytokines are closely related with the regulation of metabolism and have both central and peripheral actions, inducing anorexia via hypothalamic anorectic factors, including serotonin and dopamine, and inhibiting NPY leading to a reduction in food intake and body weight, emphasizing the interconnection of the immune and neuroendocrine systems in regulating metabolism during infectious process, cachexia and obesity.