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The psycho Euro Immunology ( PNI ) or Psychoimmunology is an interdisciplinary field that deals with the interaction of the psyche , the nervous system and the immune system employed. A neighboring field is psychoneuroendocrinology , which also includes the interactions of the hormonal system .

The research area was established after the American psychologist Robert Ader (1932–2011) experimentally demonstrated in 1974 that the immune system cooperates with the central nervous system and can learn. Since then it has become one of the most important areas of modern medical research.

One basis is the knowledge that messenger substances of the nervous system act on the immune system and messenger substances of the immune system on the nervous system. The interfaces of the control loops are the brain with the pituitary gland , the adrenal glands and the immune cells. For example, neuropeptides have the property of docking to immune cells and z. B. to influence both the speed and the direction of movement of macrophages .

This basis makes it possible to explain why psychological and psychotherapeutic processes have a demonstrable effect on physical functions ( psychosomatics ). The focus is on the effect of the psyche on the immune system, e.g. B. Why stress can negatively affect immune factors.


The first evidence of psychoneuroimmunological interactions was suspected as early as 1878 by Louis Pasteur . He found that chickens are more susceptible to infection when they are exposed to stress.

In 1957, Rasmussen demonstrated that stress increases the susceptibility of mice to herpes simplex infections .

In 1975 the American psychologist Robert Ader and the immunologist Nicholas Cohen from the University of Rochester (New York State) discovered the classically conditioned immunosuppressive effect of cyclophosphamide . Your work can be seen as the birth of the PNI. Around the same time, Hugo Besedovsky , Adriana del Rey and Ernst Sorkin reported multidirectional interactions between the immune, nervous and endocrine systems and showed that not only does the brain control immune processes, but also, conversely, immune reactions can influence neuroendocrine mechanisms. They also identified immune cell products, later called cytokines, that mediate communication between the immune system and the brain.

Most of the cells involved in the immune system were first described in the 1980s. Knowledge of the communication between immune cells and the control and regulation of the immune response laid the foundation for the neurological control mechanisms of the immune system to be researched more precisely.

To date, however, there is still a wealth of functions and interactions in immune cells that have not yet been fully explored. In this respect, the PNI is still at the basic research stage.

Dependencies of the immune cells on the psyche

The decrease in the concentration of secretory immunoglobulin A in saliva and the increased release of glucocorticoids (act as immunosuppressants ) in chronic stress have been proven . Corticosteroids inhibit cytokine production, reduce the reactivity of T and B lymphocytes and the activity of natural killer cells .

The worsened immune factors increase the frequency of infection, and the development or worsening of diseases can be favored. This is known as the " open window phenomenon "; H. a weakened immune system can no longer eliminate pathogens sufficiently.

Furthermore, these dependencies are assumed:

Negative psychological factors influencing the immune system


Clinical and experimental evidence shows that the effects of stress on the immune system are very different. This is because there are different types of stress and they are also perceived differently.

The following properties of the stressors must be distinguished:

  • Duration (a few minutes to long-lasting or chronic stress)
  • Past stressors that have left trauma
  • the subjective perception of the stressor as a challenge or as a threatening and overwhelming situation

Various experiments consistently show that acute stress increases the activity of the unspecific, innate immune system . It can be started up within a few minutes and therefore react much faster than the adaptive immune system. In addition, the innate immune system uses less energy. From an evolutionary point of view, this reaction may have been advantageous, since minor injuries and thus contact with pathogens were more common in dangerous situations in which fight or flight was necessary . An increased operational readiness of the unspecific immune system would be a better protection for such situations.

In the case of chronic stressors, both the innate and the adaptive immune system have seen both general immunosuppression and dysfunction.


Various studies have shown that depression is associated with changes in immune functions. However, the effects are very diverse and, according to the current state of research, do not yet give a uniform picture. It is agreed that the activity of the NK cells is reduced. This weakens an essential pillar of the immune system. After taking antidepressants , the activity of the NK cells increases again.


Different effects on the immune system have been demonstrated in patients with anxiety disorders . A reduction in lymphocyte production was consistently observed. Further research is required here in order to enable a more precise assignment of the functional changes in the immune system to the psychological effects of the fears.

Positive psychological factors influencing the immune system

The personality traits that spread a pleasant attitude towards life correlate with better functioning of the immune system.


People with an optimistic outlook on life assume that everything will end well.

Various studies have shown that optimism strengthens the functions of the immune system and alleviates the negative effects of fear.

Several studies have shown that optimism is associated with slower disease progression in HIV- positive patients. Conversely, a more rapid deterioration of the overall condition has been observed in patients who have given up on themselves. Long-term studies on HIV-positive patients showed that z. B. the NK cells have a higher toxicity and a higher activity.

Self worth

Under self-worth is defined as the impression or the rating that you have of yourself.

A study showed that after a rubella infection, the number of antibodies correlates with a patient's higher self-esteem .


As self-efficacy is called basis of their own faith, competence to perform desired actions successfully themselves. There are similarities to optimism, which generally believes in a good end to all things. In self-efficacy, however, the focus is on believing in one's own ability to bring about the good end.

Studies are also available here from the area of ​​HIV research. It has been shown that patients with a high level of self-efficacy have lower levels of viruses in their blood, less common AIDS symptoms and a lower mortality rate.

Social ties

The attachment theory assumes that people an innate desire, close and characterized by intense feelings relationships with people who build. The experience of social support gives recognition , identity , belonging and security .

Several studies have shown that social support from friends and family correlates with a high number of NK cells and a good balance of various cells involved in the immune system. In psychologically stressful situations, good social relationships have a stimulating effect on the acquired immunity .

Subjects who were exposed to the cold virus were less likely to develop a cold if they were more socially open.

Positive feelings

Feelings of gratitude, happiness, enthusiasm and pride not only have an impact on faster healing after injuries or operations, but also on the effectiveness and regulation of the immune system. A lower mortality rate was found in HIV-infected men. In general, a higher resistance to rhinoviruses , the causative agents of colds and colds, was found.

When negative feelings are predominant, there is a tendency towards a loss of balance in the immune system in various places. The result is that the entire system can no longer work as effectively and consequently infections cannot be identified and fought as quickly.

Just watching a funny video increases the number of different cells involved in the immune system.

Diversity of emotions

Recent research suggests that the ability to differentiate emotions can also have a positive impact on health and the immune system. In the blood samples of people who reported a variety of emotions in their everyday life, fewer biomarkers were found that indicate inflammatory conditions in their bodies - regardless of whether pleasant or unpleasant feelings predominated.

It is believed that people with a higher emotional granularity are better able to regulate their emotions and adapt their own behavior to the challenges of everyday life.


  • Norbert Müller: Psychoneuroimmunology of psychiatric diseases. Investigations in schizophrenia and affective psychoses (=  monographs from the entire field of psychiatry . Volume 80 ). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, Barcelona, ​​Budapest, Hong Kong, London, Milan, Paris, Tokyo 1995, ISBN 978-3-540-59459-8 .
  • J. Hennig: Psychoneuroimmunology. 1998, ISBN 3-8017-1205-2 .
  • Rainer H. Straub: Networked Thinking in Biomedical Research. Psycho-Neuro-Endocrino-Immunology. 2005, ISBN 3-525-45050-8 .
  • Manfred Schedlowski, Uwe Tewes: Psychoneuroimmunology. Spectrum Academic Publishing House, 1996, ISBN 3-86025-228-3 .
  • Niels Birbaumer, Robert Franz Schmidt: Biological Psychology. 7., revised. and additional edition. 2010, ISBN 978-3-540-95937-3 .
  • Christian Schubert: Psychoneuroimmunology and Psychotherapy. Schattauer Verlag, 2011, ISBN 978-3-7945-2700-7 .
  • Ulrike Ehlert, Roland von Känel (ed.): Psychoendocrinology and psychoimmunology. Springer Verlag, 2011, ISBN 978-3-642-16963-2 .
  • Schubert, Ch. (2016). What makes us sick - What heals us: The start of a new medicine. Understand the interaction of body, mind and soul better. Fischer & Gann, Bielefeld, ISBN 978-3-903072-17-6
  • Dröge, Anette: Feeling is healthy - healing through a balance of body, soul and immune system, Fischer & Gann, Bielefeld 2019, ISBN 978-3-903072-82-4

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b R. Ader, N. Cohen: Behaviorally conditioned immunosuppression. In: Psychosomatic medicine. Volume 37, Number 4, 1975, pp. 333-340, ISSN  0033-3174 . PMID 1162023 .
  2. ^ Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence . Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. 1st edition. Bantam, New York 1995, ISBN 0-553-09503-X , pp. 166 f .
  3. L. Pasteur, J. Jourbert, R. Chamberland: Le charbon des poules. In: Compt Rend Acad Sci. 87, 1878, p. 47.
  4. ^ AF Rasmussen, JT Marsh, NQ Brill: Increased susceptibility to herpes simplex in mice subject to avoidance learning stress or restraint. In: Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biologie and Medicine. 96, 1957, p. 183.
  5. H. Besedovsky, E. Sorkin, D. Felix, H. Haas: Hypothalamic changes during the immune response . In: European Journal of Immunology . tape 7 , no. 5 , May 1977, ISSN  0014-2980 , pp. 323-325 , doi : 10.1002 / eji.1830070516 , PMID 326564 .
  6. H. Besedovsky, A. del Rey, E. Sorkin, M. Da Prada, R. Burri: The immune response evokes changes in brain noradrenergic neurons . In: Science (New York, NY) . tape 221 , no. 4610 , August 5, 1983, ISSN  0036-8075 , p. 564-566 , PMID 6867729 .
  7. a b Hugo O. Besedovsky, Adriana Del Rey: Physiology of psycho immunology euros: a personal view . In: Brain, Behavior, and Immunity . tape 21 , no. 1 , January 2007, ISSN  0889-1591 , p. 34-44 , doi : 10.1016 / j.bbi.2006.09.008 , PMID 17157762 .
  8. H. Besedovsky, A. del Rey, E. Sorkin, CA Dinarello: Immunoregulatory feedback between interleukin-1 and glucocorticoid hormones . In: Science (New York, NY) . tape 233 , no. 4764 , August 8, 1986, ISSN  0036-8075 , p. 652-654 , PMID 3014662 .
  9. ^ Christian Schubert: Psychoneuroimmunology and Psychotherapy. Schattauer Verlag, 2011, ISBN 978-3-7945-2700-7 , p. 116.
  10. ^ JE Milram, JL Richardson, G. Marks, CA Kemper, AJ McCutchan: The roles of dispositional optimism and pessimism in HIV disease progression. In: Psychol Helth. 2004; 19, pp. 167-181.
  11. M. Morag, A. Morag, A. Reichenberg, B. Lerer, R. Yirmiya: Psychological variables as predictors of rubella antibody titers and fatigue - a prospective, double bind study. In: J Psychiatr Res. 1999; 33, pp. 389-395.
  12. T. Miyazaki, S. Ishilkawa, A. Natata include: Association between perceived social support and Th1 dominance. In: Biol Psychology. 2005; 70, pp. 30-37.
  13. ^ SD Pressman, S. Cohen: Does positive affect influence health? In: Psychological Bullentin. 2005; 131, pp. 926-971.
  14. AD Ong, L. Benson, AJ Zautra, N. Ram: Emodiversity and Biomarkers of Inflammation . In: emotion. Advance online publication, June 22, 2017, doi: 10.1037 / emo0000343
  15. ^ TB Kashdan, LF Barrett, PE McKnight: Unpacking emotion differentiation: Transforming unpleasant experience by perceiving distinctions in negativity . In: Current Directions In Psychological Science , 24 (1), 2015.