National Geographic

Lifting Brain Fog

T cell. Wellcome Institute. http://www.flickr.com/photos/wellcomeimages/6941347465/

T cell. Wellcome Institute. http://www.flickr.com/photos/wellcomeimages/6941347465/

Ten years ago, Jonathan Kipnis decided to run an experiment to see how well mice can learn new things. He suspected that the immune system was important to cognition, and so he wanted to compare mice with normal immune systems to mice with deficient ones. Kipnis engineered mice that lacked T cells, a type of white blood cell that fights pathogens. At the time, Kipnis was getting his Ph.D. at the Weizman Institute in Israel, and the lab he was working in didn’t have the equipment necessary for the test. So he shipped off his mice–a group of normal ones and a group lacking T cells–to Ben-Gurion University. There, his colleague Hagit Cohen put the mice through their paces.

Cohen gave the mice a task known as the Morris water maze. She put them in a pool of water, where they started to swim frantically. Just under the surface of the water there was a hidden stand. If the mice could find the stand, they could climb onto it and stop their desperate swimming. Over several rounds, the mice learned where the stand was hidden and swam straight for it.

Once she had tested the animals, Cohen gave Kipnis a call. “She said, ‘One of the groups of the mice you sent me are real idiots. I’ve never seen such idiotic mice,’” Kipnis told me when I talked to him about his research.

The idiot mice were the ones without a T cell between them.

Kipnis, who is now at the University of Virginia, has spent the past decade following up on his discovery, exploring the potential influence of the immune system on the brain. It may help to explain all sorts of puzzles, such as why getting sick can put our minds in a fog. His work is the subject of my column in the latest issue of Discover. This piece is my final one as a Discover columnist, and I’m particularly happy to end with such intriguing research, which encourages us to understand the brain by looking beyond it. Check it out.

There are 3 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Durrg
    February 14, 2013

    I wonder how much this can apply to Alzheimer’s Disease. Thymus degeneration leading to fewer T-cells leading to decreased interlukin-4 levels? This paper perhaps shows a link in elevated IL-4 levels slowing AD like symptoms in animals.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20371618

  2. Raena
    February 20, 2013

    that is a cool and intrusting thing to think about and read about; I like it.

  3. Jag Rawat
    February 24, 2013

    Reminds me of my own experiment at University of Liverpool wherein I was keeping some group of mice infected with Mesocestoides corti and these mice lacked one or other kind of cytokine or cytokine receptors. A group which lacked gene for Interleukin-4, showed something amazing. The mice in this group, became too aggressive in a very short interval of infection. These started attacking each other vigorously so much that the Experimental House Incharge informed us to abandon the Experiment lest it is checked by Home Office and which could order closure of the whole Experimental House.

    When I saw the mice with my Supervisor, I was all the time thinking and after a long deal of experiments with these mice, I was having all kind of weird conclusions why “that aggressiveness to the extent of madness, happened to this group of mice”, and not in others.

    I thought IL-4 has something to do with controlling aggression, at least whenever there is an infection? What that IL-4 was to do, was however nowhere related with my Ph D research but that intrigued me that time and always after that till I got this research report by this famous science and discovery author. Incidentally, this is his last piece in DISCOVER and what a lucky situation for me to find it intensively connected with my ‘TALASH’ or DISCOVERY of a question which is deepest into my psyche related with ‘pyscho-neuro-endocrino-immune systems connections’. This question engendered way back in 1987 during my Masters in Veterinary Science in Veterinary Immunology degree by my Thesis Supervisor, Dr M C Goel, who taught us about Tsu Tsumu Tonegawa, who also got a Nobel Prize in 1980s on Generation of Antibody Diversity and I read his contribution in Annual Review of Immunology where he professed that Immune System is the Super-system, in which he proposed deepest influence of this system over Psycho-neuro-endocirno systems in a singular unique way. That curiosity was never satiated and was rather became more sharp by amazing results of Experiment at University of Liverpool during my Ph D from 1995-1999. That intrigue developed a quest which led me at that time to get connected with another very strange field and it was Yoga! How come one reaches from genetic engineering to Yoga is what one can understand when one goes to see deepest meanings of life which are not influenced by one or other schools of thought or field of enqury. Those who could do Yoga well, especially Pranayama, also do not get many of chronic debilitating diseases which characterises our/western current lifestyle. Along with changing food habits and lack of Yogic methods, a nidus could develop at some locations. This nidus comes into being at site of inflammation. These site of inflammation are more likely to come at the inner side of micro-arteries supplying vital organs. Exact places are micro-arteriolar-venular plexuses wherein exchange of nutrients including oxygen/CO2 would happen. At these places every day some damages might happen and that could start a nidus to develop and if it is not cleared in due time, the inflammatory process may take over. This might become exasperating and make a big node or thrombus and it may occlude. Such situations do happen in many of the diseases.

    When I joined my Masters Research in Immunology in 1986, in very first three months I was deeply intrigued by what Immune System is in relation to ‘disease’ and a book on Pathology of Disease in which one Dixon was author, sharpened my understanding about ‘disease and immune system’.

    As something well thought up never fails one in honest pursuits, it is true that the quest of Chronic Diseases Afflicting Humanity are now being linked to Ayurveda/Yoga vis-a-vis immune system and precipitating factor is our life-style which allows our body to be overwhelmed as our spirit is overwhelmed by ‘mass media’.

    Could we see deeper connections of diseases with our advancement in civilisation?

    Could we do a little less into our unnecessary exploration into other causes of diseases and rather go into a question which is based upon dealing BODY AS A SYSTEM? Could we take the Work reported here further along with suggestions of going beyond into Yoga/Ayurveda. There may be some molecules of sanity and hottest molecule for that position is IL-4 as borne out by my experiments in quite unequivocal manner. But finding a molecule is not end of it the molecule works in context of a system and not without it. It means availability of nutrients and other signals required is important.

    Keep on discovering it but my quest has been rather rekindled by this article.

    Thank you very much.

    Jagveer Rawat, Ph D from University of Liverpool in Immunology in 1999.

Add Your Comments

All fields required.

Related Posts