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Is your immune system just Really bored?

January 17, 2007

leechNo decent blog long exists without grossly mischaracterizing a medical study. Today is my day.

The study in question suggests that MS patients with parasitic infections suffer fewer relapses than those without. 12 patients had the infection, 12 did not. Among the 12 that did there were 3 relapses over the 4 and 1/2 year period, and the 12 that did not suffered 56.

The interpretation recounted by South Coast Today is this:

The finding suggests that when the body’s immune system is occupied with an external threat, it might be less likely to misfire, which happens in conditions known as autoimmune disorders.

Sounds like boredom to me. Your immune system has nothing to do, it gets bored. It tries a few new hobbies but its nature is to be a vicious killer, and so kill it must. Autoimmune disease is a wonderful reminder that it’s good to have the immune system on your side.

Assuming there is something to this interpretation (the real one, not the joke), what confuses me is that the immune system doesn’t really play a resource juggling game. Once its agents are loose in the body, they pretty much operate on their own. If they encounter one of the microbes they were designed to attack, they attack and divide. Clearly my immune system knowledge exists on a low level, but how does the activity, no matter how great, of the parasite-reactive agents affect those agents that are self-product reactive? If this study is to be believed, somehow it does.

Story. Press Release.

Update: M.S. and Parasites