4 Things To Know About Social Behavior and the Immune System

Today, I’d like to share an important article that talks about the possible correlation between the immune system and social behavior. Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the immune system directly affects and even controls creatures’ social behavior, such as their desire to interact with others.

Here are what I believe are the 4 main takeaways for us parents:

1. A specific immune molecule, interferon gamma, seems to be critical for social behavior and that a variety of creatures, such as flies, zebrafish, mice and rats, activate interferon gamma responses when they are social. Normally, this molecule is produced by the immune system in response to bacteria, viruses or parasites. Blocking the molecule in mice using genetic modification made regions of the brain hyperactive, causing the mice to become less social.

2. The immune system problems could contribute to an inability to have normal social interactions. This has significant implications for neurological diseases such as autism-spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

3. The relationship between people and pathogens directly affected the development of our social behavior, allowing us to engage in the social interactions necessary for the survival of the species while developing ways for our immune systems to protect us from the diseases that accompany those interactions.

4. The discovery that the immune system – and possibly germs, by extension – can control our interactions raises many exciting avenues for scientists to explore, both in terms of battling neurological disorders and understanding human behavior.

Here’s a quote by Jonathan Kipnis, chair of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience:

“Immune molecules are actually defining how the brain is functioning. So, what is the overall impact of the immune system on our brain development and function? I think the philosophical aspects of this work are very interesting, but it also has potentially very important clinical implications.”

You can read the full article here: