The complex relationship between the immune system, brain development, and mental illness is one of the hottest topics in the current research. In his new book Infectious Behavior, neurobiologist Paul H. Patterson presents a captivating overview of current research surrounding this topic.
Dr. Patterson is a nationally acclaimed expert in neuroimmunity; a large part of his research involves the study of interactions between the nervous and immune systems. His expertise, combined with his laboratory work and his personal experiences, lead him to write this volume, with the purpose of providing an overview of brain function and its complex interactions with other organ systems. Going beyond genetics, Dr. Patterson’s book proposes a novel outlook on the causes of mental illnesses, by exploring the possibility of brain-immune communications as potential contributors.
This accessible book is intended for the general public but will be well appreciated by medical and mental health professionals and researchers in the field of neurobiology. Additionally, anyone with an interest in autism, schizophrenia, or depression will find this interesting and informative reading.
Infectious Behavior is structured into 9 well-written chapters, followed by an optimistic epilogue. A useful introduction written by the author offers insight into novelties of this text and contains a brief summary of its content. At the end of the volume, a list of pertinent books and articles are provided for reference.
From the beginning, the author introduces the concept of bidirectional cross talk between the nervous system and the immune system, which constitutes a leitmotif in this book. The volume starts with a fascinating historical perspective. Dr. Patterson recounts some intriguing early experiments that first shed light on the interaction between mind and body. The author then dives into examining our current understanding of neuroimmune interactions, specifically how the brain regulates the immune system and how the immune system influences human behavior. He introduces a number of immune-related molecules involved in this process, which illustrate how closely intertwined the 2 systems are. A particular cytokine, interleukin-6, is given special consideration because Dr. Patterson and his group have done extensive work looking at the role of interleukin-6 in the modulation of synaptic connections that underlie critical physiologic and pathologic processes.
A key point in this book concerns the fetal-maternal environment and the role of the immune system of the pregnant woman and her fetus in the development of mental illness. Particular attention is given to maternal infections as a risk factor for autism and schizophrenia.
Keeping in mind the relation between environmental factors and mental illnesses, the author summarizes the risks and benefits of prenatal and postnatal vaccinations; he also touches on the potential link between fetal hormones and autism, a topic that developmental-behavioral pediatricians and other autism specialists will particularly appreciate.
The role of the immune-related molecules is further detailed in the context of describing animal models for mental illnesses. Animal models for such disorders are considered a controversial topic in current research; therefore, the reader will appreciate this comprehensive review of available animal models of both genetic and environmental risk factors for autism, schizophrenia, and depression.
Finally, promising clinical trials that investigate interventions and treatments for neurodevelopmental disorders are described. Research linking both early postnatal and adult interventions to positive outcomes is outlined, ending this captivating volume on an optimistic note.
In sum, Dr. Patterson has provided a cogent analysis of an emerging, fascinating field. His book is unique for the “big picture” approach that he proposes. He integrates a wealth of information into the neuroimmune interactions framework and offers the reader a thought-provoking perspective on the intricate mechanisms that may underlie some of the most challenging and mysterious brain disorders.