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June 21, 2011


Increasing Number of Scientists See Immune System as Sixth Sense / Network of sensors may relay information back to the brain


Lots of people talk about having a "sixth sense," a way of perceiving the world other than by the standard channels of seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing or touching. Now a growing cadre of scientists is coming to believe that the body actually has such a sense.


They're not talking about extrasensory perception or intuition, though. Rather, the body's humble and hard-working immune system deserves recognition as a sensory organ of sorts, these scientists say.


extrasensory perception 超能力

According to this emerging view, the immune system is much more than a mechanism for fighting off microbial invaders. It is a specialized network of bio-sensors designed to pick up information from within and around the body and relay that information to the brain, where it can motivate animals or people to behave in specific ways.


Just as a loud sound might lead one to look around for trouble, or a flash of light might make one cover one's eyes, so signals from the immune system's scattered "listening posts" may trigger useful behaviors, the theory goes.


In some cases those behaviors may be as simple as huddling, shivering or sleeping -- actions that are typically considered general symptoms of illness or debilitation but that may, in fact, be highly specific and beneficial responses to infection. In other cases, the immune system may inspire behaviors not typically associated with illness at all, such as passivity, aggression or sexual attraction.


Some experiments have even suggested that the immune system is a big part of the body's way of telling a woman's brain which man she'd like to date.


"We think the immune system is essentially a sense organ," said Steven F. Maier, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "It's just spread around the body more than most senses are."

「私たちは免疫系が本質的に感覚器官だ」とコロラド大学ボールダー校の神経科学者・Steven F. Maierは述べた。「それは多くの感覚よりも多く身体の周りに広がっている。」

Scientists have known for years that the brain can communicate with the immune system. Some white blood cells responsible for attacking microbes, for example, are sensitive to certain brain chemicals, such as stress hormones -- which may explain why the immune system suffers in people under chronic stress.


But communication in the other direction -- from the immune system to the brain -- has been harder to document. That's changing, now, with the development of sophisticated molecular tests that can track tiny chemicals secreted by the immune system and their effects on the central nervous system.



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