It was originally believed that the immune system functioned independently from other regulatory systems of the body; however, recent research has shown that the cells and processes of the immune system are highly influenced by both neural and endocrine factors. It is now well established that the neural processes involved in learned behaviors can influence the immune system and thus alter susceptibility to disease. This chapter focuses on the regulation of the immune response by Pavlovian conditioning utilizing such immunomodulatory unconditioned stimuli as illicit and immunosuppressive drugs, aversive stimuli, and immunostimulatory agents. Research indicates that pairing a neutral stimulus that does not evoke changes in immune status with a stimulus that is itself immunomodulatory may result in the formerly neutral stimulus acquiring immune-altering properties. Accordingly, Pavlovian conditioning of the immune response is a mechanism by which an organism can anticipate environmental events and alter the response of the immune system.
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