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Social behavior is complex, mysterious and its disruption can greatly diminish quality of life. Dr. Kipnis and his team’s recent findings may lead to new insights to treat autism and schizophrenia.


 Nature (DOI: 10.1038) and Chemical and Engineering News (July 18, 2016) recently reported on new research suggesting that immune cells, specifically T-cells and/or interferon proteins, may influence social behavior.

     The report, out of the University of Virginia, summarized Dr. Jonathan Kipnis and his research team’s work showing that proteins released by immune cells can influence social behavior in mice. Kipnis’ team explains that their findings may someday help identify relationships between disrupted immune pathways and neurological disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia.

     In their study, Kipnis and his team used mice that lacked mature T-cells. They found that the mice didn’t behave as did normal mice and that the T-cell deficient mice displayed ‘autismlike conditions in tests of social behavior.’

    T-cells are not normally found within brain tissue, so Kipnis’ team had to look a bit further to explain their observations.  They found that an interferon protein (interferon-ϒ) in the T-cells might explain, at least in part, the mice’s behavior. When Kipnis’ team injected the test mice with T-cells, the mice began to display more normal social behavior. However, if the injected T-cells lacked the gene for the interferon protein, the test mice showed no improvement (at least statistically so).

     While the study poses additional unanswered questions (e.g., C & En reports on Dr. Cornelius Gross’ comments that mice who received the interferon-deficient T-cells did show some signs of social behavior), Kipnis’ findings may lead to improved treatments for certain neurological disorders.