Social function & the immune system

Why the flu might make you more friendly

Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak

Could a molecule that fights infections actually make you more sociable?

It may seem counterintuitive, yet recent research in the Department of Neuroscience at the University’s School of Medicine has shown that an immune system molecule appears to regulate social behavior.

The study, published online this summer in the journal Nature, found that mice that lacked that molecule—interferon gamma—didn’t engage in normal social behavior. It’s a surprising finding, says Dr. Anthony Filiano, lead researcher for the study. “Classically, interferon gamma is thought to fight infection, not to play a role in brain and social behavior.”

More fascinating still, the researchers hypothesize from their study that interferon gamma may have evolved to fight infections only after pathogens began to spread themselves by activating the molecule’s sociability function—suggesting that some organisms may have the capacity to affect our behavior without our awareness.

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