During infection, T-cells of the immune system synthesize acetylcholine, explains Dr. Mak. In the brain, acetylcholine functions as a neurotransmitter and controls learning and memory. In the immune system, T-cells making this classical brain chemical are able to jump out of the blood circulation and take action in the tissues to fight infection.
First author Maureen Cox summarizes the study findings this way: “The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is produced by T-cells during viral infection to facilitate their entry into tissues under attack, where these cells then kill the virus-infected cells.”
The discovery was made when the lab team genetically engineered a mouse lacking the ability to produce the neurotransmitter in T-cells and observed that the immune cells could not control chronic virus infections in its absence.
“We now have absolute genetic proof that immune cells need this brain chemical,” says Dr. Mak. “We believe it’s an entirely new lens though which to look at numerous diseases including cancer, viral infections and autoimmune conditions.” Paper. (paywall) – M. Rosas-Ballina, P. S. Olofsson, M. Ochani, S. I. Valdes-Ferrer, Y. A. Levine, C. Reardon, M. W. Tusche, V. A. Pavlov, U. Andersson, S. Chavan, T. W. Mak, K. J. Tracey. Acetylcholine-Synthesizing T Cells Relay Neural Signals in a Vagus Nerve Circuit. Science, 2011; 334 (6052): 98 DOI: 10.1126/science.1209985 More.
Researchers can say that “thinks” is “just an image” if they like. But at what point does it become clear that somehow something must have been doing something that we would normally describe as thinking or else this wouldn’t be happening.
See also: Researcher: Mathematics Sheds Light On “Unfathomably Complex” Cellular Thinking
How do cells in the body know where they are supposed to be?
Researchers A Kill Cancer Code Is Embedded in Every Cell
How Do Cells Interpret The “Dizzying” Communications Pathways In Multicellular Life Forms?
Cell atlases reveal extreme complexity at biology’s frontiers
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