Researchers at the Technion have conducted their research on mice and successfully made mice sick using their neurons alone. After this success, researchers believe they may have laid foundations for brain-based cures to inflammation in humans.
Scientists in Israel say they have studied in detail the phenomenon by which the brain can make the body sick. And they believe that they can stop inflammation in the bowel, colon and elsewhere by making tweaks in the behavior of gray matter.
Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology found that inflammation suddenly appeared when they activated certain combinations of neurons in healthy mice, who had no physical problems at all. This study illustrates the capability of the brain to initiate physical illness and shows how it happens.
The experiment was conducted on dozens of mice and it shows that some psychosomatic illness is caused by the brain that replicates an episode of physically induced illness to the body.
The Technion scientists, working in collaboration with scholars from the University of Haifa and EMMS Hospital in Nazareth, studied the combination of neurons in mice when they suffer from induced inflammation (in colon or abdomen) in mice, and then waited for them to recover.
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Then, they activated the identical combination of neurons and were successful in inducing the inflammation in the same location.
“This suggests that the brain stores some kind of representation of inflammatory conditions that mice experience, and has a way of causing the same inflammation,” Prof. Asya Rolls, the neuroimmunologist who led the study, told The Times of Israel.
“While there is a gap between experiments in mice and understanding humans, this opens up a new line of investigation for psychosomatic illness in humans.
“I was surprised to see the effect so clearly, with inflammation starting soon after neurons were activated, even though there was no pathogen or other physical trigger,” Rolls said.
She said that the research, published in the journal Cell, is one of the clearest glimpses so far into psychosomatic illness, and one of the most promising.
Researchers believe that the same experimentation is done on humans, then it can be highly helpful in treating various chronic inflammatory diseases like irritable bowel syndrome in humans. This technique can also be used to fight severe allergies.
Such an approach to treatment may reduce reliance on immunosuppressants, Rolls said.
“In many inflammatory conditions we use immunosuppressive drugs, which help by reducing the function of the immune system,” she commented.
“But they make the patient more vulnerable to other conditions due to their lowered defenses.
“If we find that for a range of illnesses we could reduce the extent we need to dial down the immune system, and instead suppress inflammation-causing activity in the brain, this could be a great advance.”