Enkephalins, brain and immunity: Modulation of immune responses by methionine-enkephalin injected into the cerebral cavity

Branislav D. Janković*, Jelena Radulović

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


There is a large number of interactions at molecular and cellular levels between the nervous system and the immune system. It has been demonstrated that the opioid neuropentapeptide methionine-enkephalin (Met-Enk) is involved in humoral and cell-mediated immune reactions. Met-Enk injected peripherally produces a dual and dose-dependent immunomodulatory effect: high doses suppress, whereas low doses potentiate the immune reactivity. The present mini-review concerns the immunological activity of Met-Enk after its administration into the lateral ventricles of the rat brain, and describes the extraordinary capacity of centrally applied Met-Enk to regulate/modulate the immune function. This survey is composed of sections dealing with (a) the role of opioid peptides in the central nervous system (CNS); (b) the activity of opioid peptides in the immune system; (c) the application of Met-Enk into the cerebral cavity; (d) the influence of centrally administered Met-Enk on nonspecific local inflammatory reaction; (e) the effect of Met-Enk injected intracerebroventricularly (i.e.v.) on specific delayed hypersensitivity skin reaction, experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, anaphylactic shock, plaque-forming cell response, and hemagglutinin production; (f) the central antagonizing action of quaternary naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that does not cross the brain-blood barrier, on Met-Enk-induced immunomodulation; (g) the alteration of immune responsiveness by i.e.v. injection of enkephalinase-degrading enzymes; (h) the participation of the brain-blood/blood-brain barrier in the CNS-immune system interaction; and (i) the role of opioid receptors in immunological activity of Met-Enk. A hypothesis has been advanced for the reaction of Met-Enk and opioid receptor sitting on the cell membrane. This concept suggests that the constellation of chemical residues of enkephalin and receptor in the microenvironment determines the binding between the opioid partners. The plurality of conformational structures of enkephalins and receptors makes possible their involvement in a variety of processes which occur in different physiological systems, including the nervous system and the immune system, and intercommunications between the two systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-270
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - 1992


  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Antibody production
  • Blood-brain barrier
  • Brain
  • Enkephalinase
  • Enkephalinase-inhibitors
  • Enkephalins
  • Experimental allergic encephalomyelitis
  • Hypersensitivity reaction
  • Immunity
  • Immunopotentiation
  • Immunosuppression
  • Inflammation
  • Methionine-enkephalin
  • Naltrexone
  • Neuroim-munomodulation
  • Neuroimmunology
  • Opioid antagonists
  • Opioid peptides
  • Opioid receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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