Voluntary Activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System

Excessive or persistent proinflammatory cytokine production plays a central role in autoimmune diseases. Acute activation of the sympathetic nervous system attenuates the innate immune response. However, both the autonomic nervous system and innate immune system are regarded as systems that cannot be voluntarily influenced. Herein, we evaluated the effects of a training

program on the autonomic nervous system and innate immune response. Healthy volunteers were randomized to either the intervention (n = 12) or control group (n = 12). Subjects in the

intervention group were trained for 10 d in meditation (third eye meditation), breathing techniques (i.a., cyclic hyperventilation followed by breath retention), and exposure to cold (i.a., immersions in ice cold water). The control group was not trained. Subsequently,

all subjects underwent experimental endotoxemia (i.v. administration of 2 ng/kg Escherichia coli endotoxin). In the intervention group, practicing the learned techniques resulted in intermittent

respiratory alkalosis and hypoxia resulting in profoundly increased plasma epinephrine levels.

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