Monocyte trafficking to the brain with stress and inflammation: A novel axis of immune-to-brain communication that influences mood and behavior

Eric S. Wohleb, Daniel B. McKim, John F. Sheridan, Jonathan P. Godbout

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Highlights: • Psychological stress activates neuroendocrine pathways that alter immune responses. • Stress-induced alterations in microglia phenotype and monocyte priming leads to aberrant peripheral and central inflammation. • Elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine levels caused by microglia activation and recruitment of monocytes to the brain contribute to development and persistent anxiety-like behavior. • Mechanisms that mediate interactions between microglia, endothelial cells, and macrophages and how these contribute to changes in behavior are discussed. • Sensitization of microglia and re-distribution of primed monocytes are implicated in re-establishment of anxiety-like behavior. Psychological stress causes physiological, immunological, and behavioral alterations in humans and rodents that can be maladaptive and negatively affect quality of life. Several lines of evidence indicate that psychological stress disrupts key functional interactions between the immune system and brain that ultimately affects mood and behavior. For example, activation of microglia, the resident innate immune cells of the brain, has been implicated as a key regulator of mood and behavior in the context of prolonged exposure to psychological stress. Emerging evidence implicates a novel neuroimmune circuit involving microglia activation and sympathetic outflow to the peripheral immune system that further reinforces stress-related behaviors by facilitating the recruitment of inflammatory monocytes to the brain. Evidence from various rodent models, including repeated social defeat (RSD), revealed that trafficking of monocytes to the brain promoted the establishment of anxiety-like behaviors following prolonged stress exposure. In addition, new evidence implicates monocyte trafficking from the spleen to the brain as key regulator of recurring anxiety following exposure to prolonged stress. The purpose of this review is to discuss mechanisms that cause stress-induced monocyte re-distribution in the brain and how dynamic interactions between microglia, endothelial cells, and brain macrophages lead to maladaptive behavioral responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number447
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberJAN
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Macrophages
  • Microglia
  • Monocytes
  • Neuroimmune
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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