• The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system has been a model for neuroendocrine control of responses of organisms to stressors since the turn of the century. Despite this, the pathways by which infectious insults interact with the HPA system remained poorly defined. Recently, evidence has been presented suggesting that humoral mediators released by inflammatory cells (cytokines) may participate in two-way communication between the site of inflammation and the central nervous system. In this review, we detail the current understanding of the responses of the HPA system to the classic physiologic stimuli of hypovolemia and pain, with an emphasis on the cellular mechanisms and mediators discovered in recent years. We also examine the data substantiating a role of interleukin 1, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor in the direct humoral activation of the HPA system and consider the evidence favoring a physiologic negative feedback relationship between the HPA and the immune systems. Such an interaction is an exciting concept with broad clinical implications. However, we believe that the temporal and quantitative aspects of experiments designed to evaluate this interaction must be carefully evaluated to assure that true physiologic stimuli are studied and that the responses observed are not due to pharmacologic effects of inflammatory mediators acting through "classic" neuroendocrine pathways.
(Arch Surg. 1992;127:1463-1474)