Your brain could be controlling how sick you get — and how you recover

Dana Kwon in Nature:

Hundreds of scientists around the world are looking for ways to treat heart attacks. But few started where Hedva Haykin has: in the brain. Haykin, a doctoral student at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, wants to know whether stimulating a region of the brain involved in positive emotion and motivation can influence how the heart heals.

Late last year, in a small, windowless microscope room, she pulled out slides from a thin black box, one by one. On them were slices of hearts, no bigger than pumpkin seeds, from mice that had experienced heart attacks. Under a microscope, some of the samples were clearly marred by scars left in the aftermath of the infarction. Others showed mere speckles of damage visible among streaks of healthy, red-stained cells. The difference in the hearts’ appearance originated in the brain, Haykin explains. The healthier-looking samples came from mice that had received stimulation of a brain area involved in positive emotion and motivation. Those marked with scars were from unstimulated mice. “In the beginning we were sure that it was too good to be true,” Haykin says. It was only after repeating the experiment several times, she adds, that she was able to accept that the effect she was seeing was real.

More here.