Microglia Cells, The Immune System, and Behavior

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The Journal Cell reported research done by Nobel Prize winning Mario Capecchi and his team here at the University of Utah regarding the pathological grooming of mice and their cure.  The research draws a direct connection to behavior in humans and the immune system, or more specifically with microglia cells that are generated in bone marrow to defend the nervous system.  It seems that in mice with a mutated Hoxb8 gene, the need to groom oneself to the point of hair removal can be cured by a bone marrow transplant to replace the microglia cells.  The mice, so treated, were cured permanently from their pathological need to groom themselves, resulting in normal behavior.  The news is staggering, because it ties mental health treatments to immune system treatments (similar to cancer patient treatments), rather than chemical treatments through drugs.

So why all the excitement?  Because it can open the doors to a number of new treatments that will be done once to cure a host of behavior disorders.  Obviously more research is needed, but it is possible that Autism could be cured with a bone marrow transplant, or at least the behavioral aspects of Autism could be cured, without the threat of altering the mind of the autistic person. 

The really exciting thing about this research, if it can be linked to Autism and develop a treatment for it, is that yet another reason for insurance companies not to recognize autism as a diagnosis has been removed.  It also will, potentially, make treatment for Autism less expensive if the behavior can be "cured" through bone marrow transplants or some other one-step procedure as opposed to years of expensive therapy.