How Brain Controls Our Immune Response


In recent Nature article, Diana Kwon describes about studies that are looking to understand how our brain could control how we get sick and how we recover.

Israeli researchers Asya Rolls, a neuroimmunologist, and Lior Gepstein, a cardiologist, and Hedva Haykin, a doctoral student — are reportedly working to determine how exactly how this happens.

Credit: Nature

Haykin explained describing their laboratory research in mice. “The difference in the hearts’ appearance originated in the brain. The healthier-looking samples came from mice that had received stimulation of a brain area involved in positive emotion and motivation. Those marked with scars were from unstimulated mice.”

“In the beginning we were sure that it was too good to be true. It was only after repeating the experiment several times that she was able to accept that the effect she was seeing was real,” Haykin reportedly said.

Quoting Rolls, Nature writes the implications of their work are broad. “She wants to provide an explanation for a phenomenon that many clinicians and researchers are aware of: mental states can have a profound impact on how ill we get — and how well we recover. In Rolls’s view, working out how this happens could enable physicians to tap into the power of the mind over the body. Understanding this could help to boost the placebo effect, destroy cancers, enhance responses to vaccination and even re-evaluate illnesses that, for centuries, have been dismissed as being psychologically driven. She says, I think we’re ready to say that psychosomatic [conditions] can be treated differently.”

Henrique Veiga-Fernandes, a neuroimmunologist at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, told Nature “Although these developments are encouraging to researchers, much is still a mystery. We often have a black box between the brain and the effect we see in the periphery. If we want to use it in the therapeutic context, we actually need to understand the mechanism.”