Psychoneuroendocrinology (PNE) is the study of the dynamic interaction of hormones with the central and peripheral nervous systems, toward the manifestation of behavior, cellular activity, systems-level functionality, and body processes, as well as their clinical applications. PNE is rooted in philosophy and the search for an understanding of the duality or unified nature of the “mind” and “body.” Philosophers wrote copiously about the influence of cognitive and affective processes on physiology, and vice versa, and established the intellectual foundation for the development of PNE as a scientific discipline.
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many advances in medicine and science were guided by the pursuit of an understanding of the relationship of the “mind” to the “body.” Many philosophers, physicians, psychologists, and others argued for duality and that the entities were separate and disintegrated. A vocal group of equally qualified and proliferative writers adamantly made a case for integration of the “mind” and “body” and ultimately yielded a coherent and well-articulated philosophy that posited a functional interaction of behavior, the nervous system, and hormones.
PNE evolved from an effort to understand the complex factors that influence human behavior and the development of normality and pathology. This evolution of the development of PNE was not unlike the occurrences that marked the development of many other areas of study (psychoneuroimmunology, psychophysiology, etc.) from a common philosophy of “integration,” resulting in many similarities between disciplines.
Psychoneuroendocrinology can be viewed as extremely similar to psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). Both study the influence of psychological and neurological processes on the manifestation of behavior and disease. However, PNE focuses on endocrine pathways, whereas PNI focuses on immune pathways. Clearly, there is an intimate relationship between hormones and immunity, and it is functionally impossible to discuss the influence of one without discussing the impact on the other. PNE, however, is most often distinguished from other disciplines by a focus on a primary mechanism of action, hormones, on affected cells, tissues, organs, systems, and the body.
Many of the activities of researchers and clinicians from diverse disciplines such as psychiatry, psychology, neurology, endocrinology, molecular and behavioral genetics, and behavioral medicine are often broadly covered under the umbrella of activities that are considered PNE. Topics that are increasingly studied by psychoneuroendocrinologists include but are not limited to glycemic control, chronic pain, infertility and contraception, autoimmunity, Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias, addiction and compulsive disorders, exercise physiology, cancer, language acquisition and pervasive developmental disorders, marriage and mate selection, reactions to physical and psychological trauma, and racism, inequity, and discrimination.
In 1969 the International Society of Psycho-neuroendocrinology was founded in Milan, Italy. Today, this organization represents PNEs across the world and has grown in size and scope. The organization represents the interest of approximately 450 researchers and clinicians toward the goal of promoting, initiating, facilitating, and disseminating into public and clinical forums, basic, clinical, and applied interdisciplinary research in psychoneuroendocrinology.
SEE ALSO Alzheimer’s Disease; Marriage; Mental Illness; Pathology, Social; Philosophy; Psychopathology; Racism; Stress
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International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology. http://www.ispne.org.
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Christopher L. Edwards