Innate immunity is the front-line defense for combat of invading microorganisms. Several recent studies point to the nervous system as the key regulator of the innate immune response, promoting its speed and accuracy, but it is not yet understood how this process occurs. Recent work from Styer et al. deciphers part of the communication pathway that relays messages between neurons and the immune system. In a genetic screen using the model organism C. elegans, they identified G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) mutations that impact worm survival following bacterial infection. A loss-of-function mutation in the gene npr-1 was found to decrease the worm innate immune system response after infection. NPR-1 is expressed in neurons that function as part of a neural circuit responsible for coordinating the worm’s behavioral response to the environment. Since npr-1 encodes a GPCR related to the mammalian neuropeptide Y receptor, it is likely that this type of neural-immune system communication will be conserved in other organisms as well.

References

Styer
K. L.
,
Singh
V.
,
Macosko
E.
,
Steele
S. E.
,
Bargmann
C. I.
,
Aballay
A.
(
2008
).
Innate immunity in Caenorhabditis elegans is regulated by neurons expressing NPR-1/GPCR
.
Science
322
,
460
464
.