Study spots an autoimmune protein that may cause OCD

An overabundance of this particular protein make mice anxious and is found in human OCD patients.

Study spots an autoimmune protein that may cause OCD
Image source: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock
  • A study of mice discovers a protein that can induce anxiety if over-expressed.
  • Anxious mice calmed down when the protein was blocked.
  • Human OCD patients studied have six times more of this protein.

There has been a suspicion for some time that the immune system is somehow involved in the development of certain psychological disorders. Now a new study from Queen Mary University in London and led by Fulvio D'Acquisto has identified in mice a specific autoimmune protein that may trigger OCD's anxiety and stress in humans. "Our findings overturn a lot of the conventional thinking about mental health disorders being solely caused by the central nervous system," says D'Acquisto.

The study is published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

#The autoimmune system and mental illness

Image source: Hanna Xu/unsplash

"There is mounting evidence that the immune system plays an important role in mental disorders," easy D'Acquisto. "And in fact, people with auto-immune diseases are known to have higher than average rates of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and OCD."

These potential linkages can be difficult to definitively affirm. Depression and anxiety, for example, may just as easily be understandable reactions to the autoimmune conditions' onset and not mental disorders. Still, as the study notes:

  • 40% of patents with multiple sclerosis have attempted suicide.
  • Depression and anxiety are common in those with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • Over 30% of people affected by autoimmune hepatitis suffer from schizophrenia.

Imood

Image source: Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova/Shutterstock

At the heart of the new study's findings lies a protein the researchers call Immuno-moodulin, or Imood. An excess of this protein produced unusually anxious mice.

D'Acquisto and his colleagues stumbled across Imood by accident. Their intention was to investigate the role of another protein, Annexin-A1, in the development of multiple sclerosis and lupus. To that end, the researchers bred mice in which Annexin-A1 was being over-expressed in their immune systems' T-cells. Unexpectedly, these transgenic mice seemed more than typically anxious. Curious, the team analyzed the T-cells' genes and found one protein that was particularly active — Imood.

The researchers' hunch was confirmed with the administering of an Imood antibody — the mice calmed down in a few days.

Mice is nice, but people?

Image source: Priscilla Du Preez/unsplash

Obviously, such findings in mice wouldn't necessarily apply to human beings. D'Acquisto's team decided to look for Imood in 23 OCD outpatients from the OCD tertiary outpatient Clinic of the University Department of Psychiatry of Milan, Policlinico Hospital. There were also 20 "normal" patients tested as a control group.

The researchers found the Imood amounts in the OCD patients were roughly six times higher than in the control group.

According to a Queen Mary University press release, D'Acquisto's research joins that of other scientists who identified the same protein as being over-expressed in patents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

The mechanism behind the connection between Imood and OCD isn't yet clear. D'Acquisto suspects it's less a matter if direct alteration of brain function, and is more likely to be some influence exerted over brain cells already linked to mental disorders. He says, "This is work we still have to do to understand the role of Imood. "We also want to do more work with larger samples of patients to see if we can replicate what we saw in the small number we looked at in our study."

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An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

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