Emotions and the Immune System

Our thanks to Thursday's speaker Fulvio D'Acquisto, Professor of Immunopharmacology at the William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary University of London. 

Fulvio's talk posed a series of questions. Should we consider the emotional response as an integral part of autoimmune manifestation of the disease? Do autoimmunity and mental wellbeing share the same pathways? And is there a therapeutic vantage in treating the emotional side of immune diseases?

In addressing these questions, Fulvio made explicit the assumptions from which his answers were derived. First, that the immune system is the 'mirror' of the emotional state. And second, that emotional wellbeing is the 'mirror' of the immunological state. He talked about his research with mouse models, where the genetic modification of genes specific to the immune system (a gene that is specific to T-cells) led to OCD and anxiety in mice. He also showed research showing how the presence or absence of T-cells in the blood (of mice) affects behaviour (and 'mood') and the brain. Then he showed that the brain can regulate immune response in mice as well. So there is, he suggests, an emotion-immunesystem circuit. Fulvio also talked about his attempts to model the effect of massage therapy on the immune system through an experiment that involved stroking mice - and this did induce observable changes in the immune system. And he showed how mice have preferences for "emotionally comforting" - and also "immunostimulatory" - textiles.

Fulvio's talk also covered some of his outreach projects, particularly 'life-is-shit' and the 'affective immunology' project, as well as his work on 'dreaming autoimmunity'. Thanks again to Fulvio for a memorable seminar. 

The OxIMP project will be running a further series of seminars in Trinity term. Announcements will be made online and through our mailing list (sign up below).