Immune system responsible for stress-related anxiety, says study

Verity Stockdale - Sep 2013

New research has identified how cells of the immune system are responsible for feelings of anxiety in an individual who is exposed to stress.

When individuals are exposed to stressful environments, the ways in which different people react will vary hugely. However, a common response is that of feelings of anxiety - and scientists believe they have identified exactly why that is.

New research from Ohio State University has revealed that when individuals are subjected to stress, immune system cells called monocytes are recruited to the brain as a natural reaction. However, this brings about inflammation in certain regions which are associated with mood - such as the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus - thereby causing a person to feel anxious.

This is perhaps not surprising due to the way in which monocytes work elsewhere as part of the immune response. When an area of the body is subjected to trauma, monocytes are directed to the site as part of the healing process, where they can also cause inflammation.

The interesting aspect of this research is the discovery that it is this same biological pathway which is causing people to become anxious when they are exposed to stress - and yet it does not damage the brain tissue.

Further studies proved that the monocytes involved in this reaction had not originated in the brain, but had come from bone marrow.

Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the research is important as it may lead scientists and medical practitioners to use the knowledge to develop new and more effective ways of treating patients experiencing problems with stress-related anxiety.

"There are different moving parts from the central and peripheral components, and what's novel is them coming together to influence behaviour," commented senior co-author of the study Jonathan Godbout, associate professor of neuroscience at the institution.

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