Journal of Molecular Medicine

, Volume 90, Issue 5, pp 523-534

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Evolutionary medicine and chronic inflammatory state—known and new concepts in pathophysiology

  • Rainer H. StraubAffiliated withLaboratory of Experimental Rheumatology and Neuroendocrino-Immunology, Division of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine I, University Hospital Regensburg Email author 


During the last 10 years, a series of exciting observations has led to a new theory of pathophysiology using insights from evolutionary biology and neuroendocrine immunology to understand the sequelae of chronic inflammatory disease. According to this theory, disease sequelae can be explained based on redirection of energy-rich fuels from storage organs to the activated immune system. These disease sequelae are highly diverse and include the following: sickness behavior, anorexia, malnutrition, muscle wasting–cachexia, cachectic obesity, insulin resistance with hyperinsulinemia, dyslipidemia, increase of adipose tissue near inflamed tissue, alterations of steroid hormone axes, elevated sympathetic tone and local sympathetic nerve fiber loss, decreased parasympathetic tone, hypertension, inflammation-related anemia, and osteopenia. Since these disease sequelae can be found in many animal models of chronic inflammatory diseases with mammals (e.g., monkeys, mice, rats, rabbits, etc.), the evolutionary time line goes back at least 70 million years. While the initial version of this theory could explain prominent sequelae of chronic inflammatory disease, it did not however address two features important in the pathogenesis of immune-mediated diseases: the time point when an acute inflammatory disease becomes chronic, and the appearance of hypertension in chronic inflammation. To address these aspects more specifically, a new version of the theory has been developed. This version defines more precisely the moment of transition from acute inflammatory disease to chronic inflammatory disease as a time in which energy stores become empty (complete energy consumption). Depending on the amount of stored energy, this time point can be calculated to be 19–43 days. Second, the revised theory addresses the mechanisms of essential hypertension since, on the basis of water loss, acute inflammatory diseases can stimulate water retention using a positively selected water retention system (identical to the energy provision system). In chronic smoldering inflammation, however, there is no increased water loss. In contrast, there is increased water generation in inflamed tissue and inflammatory cells, and the activation of the water retention system persists. This combination leads to a net increase of the systemic fluid volume, which is hypothesized to be the basis of essential hypertension (prevalence in adults 22–32%).


Hormone Autoimmunity System biology