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Genes of the immune system are associated with increased risk of mental illness
Date:2/7/2011

Genes linked to the immune system can affect healthy people's personality traits as well as the risk of developing mental illness and suicidal behaviour, reveals a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Inflammation is part of the immune system and is responsible for defending humans against infection as well as fascilitating the healing of injuries, and is therefore vital for our survival. Research has demonstrated that inflammatory processes also have other roles to play as inflammatory substances produced by the body influence mechanisms in the brain involving learning and memory.

Inflammatory substances produced in moderate quantities in the brain can be beneficial during the formation of new brain cells, for example. However, an increase in the levels of these substances as is the case during illness, can result in damage to the brain.

"Previous studies have shown that individuals suffering from various mental illnesses have an increased peripheral inflammation, but the reason behind this increase is not known," says Petra Suchankova Karlsson, who wrote the thesis. "It has been suggested that the stress that goes with mental illness activates the body's immune system, but it is also possible that inflammation in the body affects the brain, which in turn results in mental illness."

Previous studies have focused on how environmental and psychological factors affect the immune system's impact on the brain. Suchankova's thesis presents, for the first time, results that suggest that several different genes linked to the immune system are associated with healthy people's personality traits. It also demonstrates that some of these genes are associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia or suicidal behaviour.

"One of the things we studied was a gene variant that increases impulsiveness in people who carry it," says Suchankova. "We already knew that the risk of attempting suicide is higher in
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Contact: Petra Suchankova Karlsson
petra.suchankova@pharm.gu.se
46-031-786-3448
University of Gothenburg
Source:Eurekalert

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