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Scientists tweak brain to stop inflammation in bowel, colon and elsewhere

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A new method could reduce the use of immunosuppressants.

Israeli Scientists say they’ve witnessed exactly how the brain can make the body ill, and they believe that gray matter modifications can stop inflammation in the intestine, colon and other places.

In healthy mice with no physical concerns, researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology stimulated certain combinations of neurons and observed inflammation appear suddenly. They claim that this demonstrates the brain’s ability to cause physical sickness and demonstrates how it occurs.

The study, which examined dozens of mice, revealed that at least some psychosomatic disease is generated by the brain “replaying” a physical illness episode in the body.

Scientists from the Technion, in partnership with researchers from the University of Haifa and the EMMS Hospital in Nazareth, provoked inflammation in mice in the colon and belly, monitored neuron activity, and then waited for them to heal. Then they simply activated the same combination of neurons that were active during the original inflammation to cause new inflammation in the same region.

“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,” said Prof. Asya Rolls, the neuroimmunologist who led the study, adding, “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 believes the study, which was just peer reviewed and published in the journal Cell, is one of the clearest and most promising peeks into psychosomatic sickness to date.

If the brain has the ability to initiate inflammation, the researchers expect that decreasing the brain activity that does so will aid in the fight against inflammation.

When the study is expanded from mice to humans, it may pave the way for a better understanding of the psychosomatic aspects of irritable bowel syndrome and allergies.

According to Rolls, such a new method could reduce the use of immunosuppressants.

“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.”

Image Credit: Getty

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