The research at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) provides the first evidence that an enriched environment influences the function of T-cells -a type of white blood cell essential for immunity , and involved in HIV , rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic diseases.
For the study, mice were first housed in normal environment, that consisted of a standard cage filled with sawdust and nesting material. Then they were shifted to a wider cage with wood shavings and toys, including a coloured nest-box, fabric tube, running wheel and swing. “After only two weeks in an enriched environment the mice’s immune systems were completely different and better prepared for fighting infections,” said lead researcher Professor Fulvio D’Acquisto from QMUL. “This effect is remarkable because we haven’t given them any drugs.”
“You could say that we’ve just put them in their equivalent of a holiday resort for two weeks and let them enjoy their new and stimulating surroundings,” he said.
T-cells were extracted from the mice and stimulated with an agent that mimics infection. Tcells from mice living in the enriched environment showed a unique pattern in the release of certain signalling molecules that play a role in immunity .This included higher levels of Interleukin 10 and Interleukin 17, compared to mice in a normal environment, which gives a better response to infection.The T-cells also had a unique genetic fingerprint, with 56 genes that were boosted, many of which are involved in healing and fighting infections.
” This still needs to be tested in humans. What if doctors were able to change a patient’s environment and prescribe a two week holiday?” said D’Acquisto. ” We could boost the effects of standard drug treatments that deal with the mechanics of infection by also offering something environmental that improves a patient’s more general wellbeing,” he said. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology .