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Exploring the role of the immune system in mental health disorders
Many patients that are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease also experience co-morbidities in the form of mental health disorders. And yet, our understanding of the specific molecular mechanisms that tie the two are somewhat elusive.
Why are patients with autoimmune diseases more susceptible to mental health disorders? How does the immune system contribute to brain function, and how can this go "wrong"? These questions have been pondered by a group of researchers at the Queen Mary University of London and the University of Reohampton, London, led by Professor of Immunology Fulvio D'Acquisto. “There is mounting evidence that the immune system plays an important role in mental disorders,” said D'Acquisto.
In a new study the scientists report that transgenic mice models that are engineered to express high levels of a protein known as immune-moodulin, or Imood, demonstrate anxiety-related behaviors such as digging and over-grooming. In a sample of 23 obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) patients, levels of Imood were found to be raised in the lymphocytes – a type of immune cell – when compared with a control group that did not have OCD.
In the study, the application of an antibody to neutralize Imood in the transgenic mice produced a reduction in the anxiety behaviors exhibited.