Research in the News: Why your brain doesn’t catch cold

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(Illustration by Michael Helfenbein)

Why doesn’t the brain catch cold? A new study by Yale School of Medicine researchers shows that when a virus is detected in the nose a long-distance signaling system can activate anti-viral defenses in distant parts of the brain.

“When you think about it, it is more crucial to health of the brain more than any other organ to have robust mechanisms to combat viruses,” said Anthony van den Pol, professor of neurosurgery and lead author of the study. “Brain cells don’t turn over. Once they are dead they are dead.” Van den Pol notes that most signals in the brain travel about 20 nanometers across a synapse but when the olfactory bulb detects a viral invader immune system defenses are activated nearly a million times farther away even in uninfected areas of the brain. Research conducted in mice also shows this response is independent of the peripheral immune system.

The study appears in the Journal of Virology.

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Bill Hathaway: william.hathaway@yale.edu, 203-432-1322