Targeting neural reflex circuits in immunity to treat kidney disease

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Neural pathways regulate immunity and inflammation via the inflammatory reflex and specific molecular targets can be modulated by stimulating neurons. Neuroimmunomodulation by nonpharmacological methods is emerging as a novel therapeutic strategy for inflammatory diseases, including kidney diseases and hypertension. Electrical stimulation of vagus neurons or treatment with pulsed ultrasound activates the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway (CAP) and protects mice from acute kidney injury (AKI). Direct innervation of the kidney, by afferent and efferent neurons, might have a role in modulating and responding to inflammation in various diseases, either locally or by providing feedback to regions of the central nervous system that are important in the inflammatory reflex pathway. Increased sympathetic drive to the kidney has a role in the pathogenesis of hypertension, and selective modulation of neuroimmune interactions in the kidney could potentially be more effective for lowering blood pressure and treating inflammatory kidney diseases than renal denervation. Use of optogenetic tools for selective stimulation of specific neurons has enabled the identification of neural circuits in the brain that modulate kidney function via activation of the CAP. In this Review we discuss evidence for a role of neural circuits in the control of renal inflammation as well as the therapeutic potential of targeting these circuits in the settings of AKI, kidney fibrosis and hypertension.

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