How the Immune System Controls Social Behavior

Jul 21, 2016

By Julie Beck

More and more, we are discovering that the mind and the body are not separate. The brain is not just an ivory tower that sends orders from on high to a body that just does what it’s told. The body talks to the brain, too. Indeed, a group of scientists recently discovered a two-way connection between the brain and the immune system, one that could have far-reaching implications.

For the longest time, scientists thought that the brain was totally separate from the body’s immune system—recent work has shown that’s not so. In the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, there are lymphatic vessels that can drain fluid and immune cells from the cerebrospinal fluid into the deep cervical lymph nodes, which are located in the neck. Researchers identified these vessels first in mice, then found a “potentially similar structure” in humans.

That was in 2015. Now, a new study has shown that the immune system’s connections with the central nervous system may actually affect how animals behave socially. The key is a molecule called interferon-gamma. T-cells, a type of white blood cell, in those vessels emit interferon-gamma (let’s just call it I-G, not to be confused with Instagram) into the brain. Once there, it inhibits neurons in the prefrontal cortex. This is normal—without I-G, that region can become overactive. And researchers have found that in mice, when the prefrontal cortex becomes overactive, they get asocial.


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2 comments on “How the Immune System Controls Social Behavior

  • The body talks to the brain, too.

    Schopenhauer once remarked that a philosopher must be always be vigilant, and always try to resist the temptation to to call poetry to his aid. When will the brain-obsessed neuroscientists ever stop using metaphors to explain what they do not understand?

    More and more, we are discovering that the mind and the body are not separate.

    How could they be separate? This statement is utterly obsolete! Many dogmatic ancient philosophers equated the mind with spirit (and Mind with God). But that is all behind us now.

    Now, a new study has shown that the immune system’s connections with the central nervous system may actually affect how animals behave socially.

    These connections show what they show, but is this what is meant by the ancient Greek aphorism: “know thyself”? I



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  • This is important stuff.

    Until now It was believed the blood brain barrier did indeed cut off the brain from much of the large molecule body chemistry. Immune system chemistry was very much part of this. This is not as disastrous as it seems as the brain is protected from most bloodborne disease by the same mechanism.

    Wki Blood-brain barrier to understand the nature of this chemical isolation.

    This newly discovered back-door access to large molecules associated with the immune system allows the the brain more channels of communication from body states to brain states. Evolution of immune strategies and disease strategies will almost inevitably result and the article produces some of the possible hypotheses. Infection changing animal behaviour to the benefit of infection is a front runner here. We witness this possibity in quite a number of instances. Now we have actual direct mechanisms to explore.

    The use of metaphor in explaining to the public is benign by the way. Natural philosophers were once thoroughly guilty of using only metaphorical models as explanation, failing to see the complete absence of logic.

    “Talk to”, though, in this instance, is thoroughly understood techno speak in all fields involving communication demonstrating the success of both lock and key (vocabulary) and protocol (grammar) aspects.

    Though not pertinent to the piece, in the mid twentieth century science fiction writers and philosophers were much prone to brain in a vat musings, thinking such a brain could continue to be human. Neuro scientists knew brain stuff (in the form of nerves) filled the body and that neurotransmitters were generated as much outside the brain. Neuroscientists are at the forefront forcing the slow change to embodied cognition and I think neuro-psychologists will push us further into situated cognition as our capacity to model the complexity of loosely coupled systems develops.



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