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Immune system may remember and adapt to stress

Adversity may act similar to a vaccine, stimulating resilience

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5:00pm, January 27, 2015
Mouse exploring

BEING SOCIAL  Mice with incomplete immune systems, like the black mouse, become more social after a transplant of immune cells from stressed mice, which suggests that the immune system may adapt to adversity.

Stress may act a bit like a vaccine, spurring the immune system to build up resilience to it.

A new study in mice shows that immune cells can create a memory of stress and possibly defend the body against the ill effects of adversity. The results, published in the Jan. 28 Journal of Neuroscience, also indicate that some immune cells could become good targets for developing treatments for anxiety and depression.

In the experiment, researchers injected immune cells from stressed mice into the veins of mice bred to have partially ineffective immune systems. After receiving the cell transplant, the recipient mice became less anxious and more social. “That was a surprise,” says Miles Herkenham, a neurophysiologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. “We expected the cells to make the mice more anxious and depressed.”

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