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."

‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists find unique "hot Jupiter" planet without clouds

A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.

Illustration of WASP-62b, the Jupiter-like planet without clouds or haze in its atmosphere.

Credit: M. Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Surprising Science
  • Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
  • Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
  • Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Keep reading Show less

Lair of giant predator worms from 20 million years ago found

Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.

Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois)

Credit: Rickard Zerpe / Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
  • The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
  • The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

FOSTA-SESTA: Have controversial sex trafficking acts done more harm than good?

The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast