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Why do we feel the way we feel? Do our thoughts and emotions affect our health? The relatively new fields of Psychoneuroimmunology and Emotional Neuroscience try to answer these questions.
Work in the laboratory focuses on understanding how infection or inflammation in the body interacts with the brain to produce changes in emotion, cognition, behaviour and social functioning known as 'sickness behaviours'. Perhaps, even without realising it, we are all familiar with sickness behaviours as these are the symptoms of fatigue, lowering of mood, apathy and difficulty remembering or concentrating that we all experience when we develop the flu or any other infection.
Fortunately, for most of us these symptoms are usually short lived and relatively mild. However, when the immune system is activated for long periods, such as in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, they can become extremely debilitating or even life-threatening. In addition to their role in these classical inflammatory diseases, immune influences on the brain are increasingly implicated in the cause of common mental illnesses like depression, chronic fatigue and Alzheimer disease.
Our research is motivated by a desire to identify the neural basis of sickness behaviours. Understanding how the immune system interacts with the brain is a crucial first step that will form the foundations for future development of novel therapies targeting these common and disabling symptoms.
Our speaker, Dr Neil Harrison is Reader in Neuropsychiatry at The Brighton and Sussex Medical School.