January 30, 2017
What would you say if I told you that your immune system is involved in regulating social behavior? I am crazy, right!
At the Neuroscience Department at the University of Virginia, Dr. Filiano and others are proving this theory. Go Hoos! They published an article in the July 2016 edition of the Journal Nature that lays out the case for an ever evolving understanding role of the immune system beyond fighting pathogens.
They looked at an immune based molecule called gamma interferon whose sole role was believed to be infection fighting. The researchers started with the premise that many neurological disorders like autism and Alzheimer's dementia that have social dysfunction also have significant immune problems.
They studied mice that had a broken/missing adaptive and learning based immune system and how they responded to other mice versus objects that are not alive. They found that just like in autism, the mice that had a dysfunctional immune system spent equal amounts of time between live mice and non living objects versus the control group that focused on the live mice predominantly.
When they examined the brains of these immune abnormal mice, they found that the tissue showed a pattern of hyper connectivity in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is critical for social behavior normalcy. Add this data with the UCSD autopsy study where it became clear that the prefrontal cortex is being damaged during the prenatal period well before birth and we see a pattern of immune dysregulation and neurobehavioral disease.
Some event in utero is triggering genes to cause developmental abnormalities in brain architecture as well as immune dysfunction. We then see a child with autism or an adult with neurologic deterioration.
Filiano's research confirmed that mice that lacked gamma interferon had the same social problems as the mice that lacked the adaptive immune system.
Evolutionarily, the immune system may have been involved in social behavior as a way to avoid illness by turning on certain immune pathways that tell us to avoid each other. Conversely, if a pathogen could highjack our immune cells and turn them off, we could be pushed closer together thus allowing the pathogen to propagate more easily.
This is deep stuff, yet, science is showing the evidence to lay out a framework for the truth that our immune system is involved in way more than just killing organisms that we deem bad players.
Coupled with the above heart data, it is clear to me that our immune system is tightly intertwined with other systems and plays a role in most aspects of human function. We need to respect it and help it stay balanced by living a clean life.