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Effects of systemic inflammation on behavior, mood, cognition and pain

Inflammatory cytokines, which are released by activated immune cells after tissue injury or infection, not only play an important role in local and systemic immune regulation but also have an impact on the brain via various afferent pathways, ultimately affecting behavior, mood, and cognitive functions. These central effects of systemic inflammation encompass a broad spectrum of symptoms such as fatigue, anorexia, anhedonia, depressed mood, increased anxiety as well as hyperalgesia, known as “sickness behavior”. Under acute conditions, sickness behavior is a highly adaptive process that conserves energy and supports recovery. However, findings from experimental and clinical studies indicate that systemic inflammation is also a critical factor in the etiology and pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric disorders and chronic pain conditions. Using low-dose experimental endotoxemia as a model of acute systemic inflammation in animals and healthy human volunteers, we investigate the molecular, biochemical and neurobiological underpinnings of inflammation-induced changes in behavior, mood and cognition. Furthermore, in translational studies with patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases (e.g. colitis ulcerosa, psoriasis) we aim to identify new therapeutic targets for the treatment of inflammation-induced mood disorders.

Principle Investigators

Sven Benson, Harald Engler


German Research Foundation (DFG)

SFB 1280 „Extinction Learning“, TP A12

TRR-SFB 289 „Treatment Expectation“, TP A10, A11, A12

BE 5173/3-1


About us

The Institute of Medical Psychology was founded in 1978 and is one of the pre-clinical Departments of the Essen University Hospital.


  • Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Immunobiology
    University Hospital Essen
    Hufelandstr. 55
    45122 Essen