We all intuitively know that our mental states can affect our physical wellbeing. Especially when it comes to fighting off infections, it is common knowledge that too much stress affects our resilience against germs. And yet, the concrete details of how our brain activity influences the immune system have remained largely unclear. A new, massively collaborative study from various Chinese research institutions under the lead of famous Tsinghua University has now found a missing link for this effect.
The authors identified and characterized a direct neural pathway that connects certain neurons (that express corticotropine-releasing hormone, CRH) in specific brain regions (the amygdala and the paraventricular nucleus in the hypothalamus) through an identified nerve (the splenic nerve) to a key organ involved in the immune response: The spleen.
Their findings draw a comprehensive picture of how stress and behavior can modulate the response to an infectious challenge. Light stress enhanced the immune response to an injected antigen through formation of more plasma cells, who, in turn, produced more antibodies. Too much stress, on the other hand, had the opposite effect and decreased the immune response.
This new knowledge not only provides concrete proof for why too much stress makes us more susceptible to infections, but also suggest that mild stress through appropriate behavioral interventions may be exploited for improving our immunological resilience.
CorTec is proud to have contributed to this research by delivering a critical puzzle piece: Custom-made microcuff sling electrodes enabled the authors to record the activity in the splenic nerve that was elicited through specific activation of the CRH neurons.
Xu Zhang, Bo Lei, Yuan Yuan, Li Zhang, Lu Hu, Sen Jin, Bilin Kang, Xuebin Liao, Wenzhi Sun, Fuqiang Xu, Yi Zhong, Ji Hu, Hai Qi
Brain control of humoral immune responses amenable to behavioural modulation
Nature. 2020 May;581(7807):204-208.
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