Next time you feel a little under the weather, try a novel way to boost your immune system - play contract bridge.
In a presentation at this week's meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, University of California, Berkeley, biologist Marian Cleeves Diamond will describe an experiment showing that contract bridge players have increased numbers of immune cells after a game of bridge.
Based on her previous work, and that of others, Diamond interprets the findings as strong evidence that an area of the brain involved in playing bridge stimulates the immune system, in particular the thymus gland that produces white blood cells called T cells, or T lymphocytes.
If her study is borne out, this would be the first time a specific area of the cortex - in this case, part of the frontal lobe of the brain - has been linked with the immune system.
"People are aware that voluntary activities like positive thinking and prayer work to keep us healthy, but no one has had a mechanism," said Diamond, a professor of integrative biology in the College of Letters & Science at UC Berkeley. "These data, though preliminary, show that brain activity affects the immune system, and support the possibility of us learning to voluntarily control the level of white blood cells to help combat disease and other illnesses."
A poster describing the study will be displayed Wednesday, Nov. 8, during the Nov. 4-9 meeting in New Orleans of the Society for Neuroscience.
The experiment is the culmination of more than 15 years of work on rat and mouse brains by Diamond and her colleagues in search of a cortical area connected to the immune system. It's also a poignant tribute to her sister, who died when Diamond was 19 of the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus.
"Someday, I thought, I will find something that correlates with what killed her," said Diamond, 73. "But I'm a neuroscientist, not an immunologist, so I had to touch the immune system through the
Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley