"When you activate the mother's immune system, you turn on a variety of cytokines to fight the infection," he says.Patterson found that the offspring of the infected mothers exhibited a whole list of abnormal behaviors.
When the body reacts to stressors, two systems kick into gear.
The endocrine system produces stress hormones such as cortisol.
They're the central nervous system's first-line defense against infections and other invaders.
And, Bilbo says, "they do a lot of important things for building a brain." For starters, microglia are involved in synaptic pruning and programmed cell death.
Paul Patterson, Ph D, a neurobiologist at the California Institute of Technology and author of the book "Infectious Behavior: Brain-Immune Connections in Autism, Schizophrenia, and Depression" (2011), explores the origins of mental illness in mice.
He's infected pregnant mice with influenza virus and also stimulated their immune systems in the absence of a pathogen."The immune system is really important for how the brain develops normally," says Staci Bilbo, Ph D, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.Cells called microglia are the resident immune cells in the brain.Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that's thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype).Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common. Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment.The primed rats, she discovered, were dramatically over-expressing cytokines in response to the second hit (, 2011)."Their immune system is changed long-term as a result of the neonatal infection," she says.Something as simple as good prenatal care—from flu shots to proper nutrition—may help to prevent the biological chain reactions that underlie many psychological problems.Scientists studying the developmental roots of mental illness have zeroed in on a likely suspect: the body's stress response.The young rats recovered fully from the infection, and as adults they performed as well as control rats on tests of memory and cognition. The rats' microglia had been "primed," Bilbo says; in essence, the cells had been put on high alert for future infections.When the rats experienced a second infection—what she calls a "second hit"—around the time they were learning a new task, they showed profound memory impairments for that task.