Ecological immunology assumes that immunological defenses must be minimized in terms of cost (energy expenditure). To reach this goal, a complex and still largely unexplored strategy has evolved to assure survival. From invertebrates to vertebrates, an integrated immune-neuroendocrine response appears to be crucial for the hierarchical redistribution of resources within the body according to the specific ecological demands. Thus, on the basis of experimental data on the intimate relationship between stress and immune responses that has been maintained during evolution, we argue that a broader perspective based on the integration of immune and neuroendocrine responses should be adopted to describe the comprehensive strategy that the body utilizes to adapt to dynamic environmental conditions. We discuss the hypothesis that a bow-tie architecture might be suitable to describe the variety of immune-neuroendocrine inputs that continuously target cells and organs while, at the same time, fulfilling the basic requirement of minimizing the cost of immune-neuroendocrine responses. Bow-tie architectures are able to convert a variety of stimuli (fan in) into a wide range of fine-tuned responses (fan out) by passing through the integrating activity of a core (knot) constituted by a limited number of elements. Finally, we argue that the ecologically negotiated immune-neuroendocrine strategies may have deleterious effects in the post-reproductive period of life when, at least in humans, chronic, low-grade, systemic inflammation develops, in accordance with the antagonistic pleiotropy theory of aging.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
- Cell Biology
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Developmental Biology
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Plant Science