Of ‘Profound’ Importance in Proper Social Functioning, UVA Discovers
• Researchers determine that the immune system affects – and even controls – social behavior.
• Blocking a single type of immune molecule made mouse brains go hyperactive and caused abnormal behavior; restoring it fixed both.
• Discovery could have enormous implications for neurological conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.
• “It’s crazy, but maybe we are just multicellular battlefields for two ancient forces: pathogens and the immune system. Part of our personality may actually be dictated by the immune system.”
In a startling discovery that raises fundamental questions about human behavior, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the immune system directly affects – and even controls – creatures’ social behavior, such as their desire to interact with others. So could immune system problems contribute to an inability to have normal social interactions? The answer appears to be yes, and that finding could have great implications for neurological diseases such as autism-spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.
“The brain and the adaptive immune system were thought to be isolated from each other, and any immune activity in the brain was perceived as sign of a pathology. And now, not only are we showing that they are closely interacting, but some of our behavior traits might have evolved because of our immune response to pathogens,” explained Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, chairman of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience. “It’s crazy, but maybe we are just multicellular battlefields for two ancient forces: pathogens and the immune system. Part of our personality may actually be dictated by the immune system.”