How our immune system evolved to take control of our decision-making processes
Two new research papers are shedding light on the fascinating relationship between inflammation and behavior, suggesting our immune system can play a significant role in both our motivation and decision-making abilities.
An interesting body of evidence is growing around the idea that inflammatory activity in the brain can influence everything from behavior and mood, to self-regulation and decision-making. For example, several recent studies have contended a strong association between neuroinflammation and suicidal thoughts, implying major behavioral outcomes can be linked to physiological mechanisms.
It is one thing to describe an association between inflammation and behavior, but another to figure out what is going on neurologically here.
A new paper from scientists at Emory University proposes a theoretical framework that hopes to explain how the immune system can directly disrupt the dopamine system in the brain to help regulate the body's energy resources. It is suggested this mechanism evolved to force a body into a rest state during times of acute stress.
"When your body is fighting an infection or healing a wound, your brain needs a mechanism to recalibrate your motivation to do other things so you don't use up too much of your energy," explains corresponding author Michael Treadway. Dr. Treadway is a faculty member in the NS program.