Garvan Institute scientists have discovered how a hormone, known as neuropeptide Y (NPY), can prevent our immune system functioning properly, paving the way for two new major opportunities for therapeutic intervention.
"Most of us expect to come down with a cold or other illness when we are under pressure, but until now we have mostly had circumstantial evidence for a link between the brain and the immune system", says lead Garvan researcher Associate Professor Fabienne Mackay.
"During periods of stress, nerves release a lot of NPY and it gets into the bloodstream, where it directly impacts on the cells in the immune system that look out for and destroy pathogens (bacteria and viruses) in the body," explains Mackay.
This significant discovery, which was carried out in mice, came about through a collaboration between Mackay's immunology group and scientists in the Neurobiology programme at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia.
Associate Professor Herbert Herzog who heads the Neurobiology programme says, "Elite athletes are particularly prone to illness, possibly because of the extreme physical and emotional stressors associated with competition. But our research is relevant to everyone because there is no escaping stress be it in the workplace or at home. Employment surveys show many workers feel there is more job-related stress today than even a couple of years ago".
Absenteeism, around 30% of which can be attributed to own ill health or physical disability , costs well over $10 billion Australian dollars a year , so now more than ever employers should be thinking about how to reduce stress in the hope that their workforce will be healthier.
The Garvan Institute study centres on two key events that enable our bodies to recognise foreign substances an
Contact: Dr Branwen Morgan