Kristian Stengaard-Pedersen

Vagal influences in rheumatoid arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic immune-mediated inflammatory disease with a prevalence of 0.5–1% in Western populations. Conventionally, it is treated with therapeutic interventions that include corticosteroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, and biological agents. RA exerts a significant socio-economic burden and despite the use of existing treatments some patients end up with disabling symptoms. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a brain–body interface that serves to regulate homeostasis by integrating the external environment with the internal milieu. The main neural substrate of the parasympathetic branch of the ANS is the vagus nerve (VN). The discovery of the role of the ANS and the VN in mediating and dampening the inflammatory response has led to the proposal that modulation of neural circuits may serve as a valuable therapeutic tool. Recent studies have explored the role of the VN in this inflammatory reflex and have provided evidence that stimulation may represent a novel new therapeutic intervention. Accumulating evidence suggests that modulation of the parasympathetic tone results in a broad physiological multi-level response, including decreased pro-inflammatory cytokine response in terms of tumour necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1 (IL-1), and IL-6, and may result in an enhanced macrophage switch from M1 to M2 cells and potentially an increased level of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. Therefore, therapeutic electrical modulation of the VN may serve as an alternative, non-pharmacological, neuroimmunomodulatory intervention in RA in the future. This review gives a focused introduction to the mechanistic link between the ANS and the immune system.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScandinavian Journal of Rheumatology
Volume47
Issue1
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
ISSN0300-9742
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

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