Most of us think that the immune system is responsible for these symptoms. Of course, its job is to defend and fight infection, but the symptoms of the disease are the “working of the brain,” according to Harvard scientists. Responsible for this will be a small group of neurons located in the hypothalamus.
How does the body respond to infection?
In simple terms, the nervous system gives an impulse to the immune system and then triggers a series of behavioral and physiological changes that we consider unpleasant symptoms of disease. Neuroscientists have always wondered: How and where does this happen in the brain? Harvard experts found answers in the brains of mice.
They identified a small group of neurons in the brain that can trigger symptoms of the disease, including fever, loss of appetite and feeling cold. They have receptors that can directly detect molecular signals from the immune system. These neurons are found in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain known for its ability to control key homeostatic functions that keep the body in a balanced and healthy state.
New hope for symptomatic treatment
We hope that one day scientists can use knowledge of how this mechanism works to guide the healing process. For example, fever is usually a healthy reaction that helps eliminate the pathogen. But when it goes up too much, it can also be dangerous. The same can be said about loss of appetite or lack of thirst. Long-term nutrient or hydration deficiencies begin to hamper recovery.
“If we understand how it works, we might be able to help patients who have a hard time dealing with these kinds of symptoms, like those who have chemotherapy or cancer, who have very low appetite, but there’s nothing we can do about it, Jessica Osterhout, lead author of the study.
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