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Rewarding stimulation boosts immune system

Experiment in mice may help explain placebos’ power

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11:00am, July 4, 2016
Immune cells

TWO TALES  Immune cells taken from mice that had their brains’ reward systems activated (right) killed more E. coli than immune cells taken from control mice (left).   

Feeling good may help the body fight germs, experiments on mice suggest. When activated, nerve cells that help signal reward also boost the mice’s immune systems, scientists report July 4 in Nature Medicine. The study links positive feelings to a supercharged immune system, results that may partially explain the placebo effect.

Scientists artificially dialed up the activity of nerve cells in the ventral tegmental area — a part of the brain thought to help dole out rewarding feelings. This activation had a big effect on the mice’s immune systems, Tamar Ben-Shaanan of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and colleagues found.

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