In a new study, researchers found an inflammatory autoimmune response similar to one linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) also occurs in the spinal fluid of healthy people.
They compared immune system cells in the spinal fluid of MS patients and healthy people.
The finding suggests these immune cells may play a role other than protecting against microbial invaders—protecting our mental health.
It suggests that gamma interferons, a type of immune cell that helps induce and modulate a variety of immune system responses, may also play a role in preventing depression in healthy people.
The research was led by a team at Yale University.
Previous research has shown that blocking gamma interferons and the T cells they help produce can cause depression-like symptoms in mice.
The team notes that depression is also a common side effect in patients with MS treated with a different type of interferon.
Using a powerful new technology that allows a detailed examination of individual cells, the researchers show that while the characteristics of T cells in the spinal fluid of healthy people share similarities with those of MS patients, they lack the ability to replicate and cause the damaging inflammatory response seen in autoimmune diseases such as MS.
In essence, the immune system in the brains of all people is poised to make an inflammatory immune system response and may have another function than defending against pathogens.
These T cells serve another purpose and the researchers speculate that they may help preserve mental health.
The team plans to explore how the immune system responses in the central nervous system might affect psychiatric disorders such as depression.
One author of the study is David Hafler, the William S. and Lois Stiles Edgerly Professor of Neurology.
The study is published in the journal Science Immunology.
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