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Affective Immunology: understanding the crosstalk between emotions and the immune system

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

I am currently trying to develop a new area of research that I have christened ‘Affective Immunology’ (see this link for more details or this review paper

The overall aim of this new field of science is to assess the effects of ‘affects’ (i.e. any form of mental functioning that involves emotions) on the immune system.

We currently know that affects and emotions – our social environment – our diet and lifestyle – are all aspects of ‘daily living’ that have profound effects on the immune system. We also know that the immune system is ‘plastic’ i.e. it changes continually depending on a number of external factors. However, very little is known on how these changes at cellular and tissue level are delivered.

The long-term goals of my research are to better understand the therapeutic values of affects and emotions on the immune system and to use this information to possibly influence health policies in the future.

We are currently investigating the immunomodulatory effects of emotions in a variety of experimental systems including housing of mice in an ‘enriched environment’ (i.e. a cage with toys and sensorial stimuli) – or in social isolation. Similar approaches have been used in human subjects by studying the immune and inflammatory response of ‘happy’ (subjected to mirthful laughter) healthy volunteers or patients suffering from mental disorders.

The training provided for this project will consist of a mix of technical skills such as gene expression profiling and clinical biomarker screening, immunology, molecular biology and classical pharmacology. The experimental models proposed and the research tools required will be available in the lab. Applicants willing to set-up and try new system are particularly welcomed.

I am open and willing to consider application from graduate in Psychology or non-classical biomedical background if they are looking to expand their horizons in biopsychosocial research.

Funding Notes

All applicants should indicate in their applications how they intend to fund their studies. We have a thriving community of international PhD students and encourage applications at any time from students able to find their own funding or who wish to apply for their own funding (e.g. Commonwealth Scholarship).


F. D’Acquisto: Affective Immunology: where emotions and the immune response converge. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. (2017);19(1):9-19.S. Brod, T. Gobetti, B. Gittens, M

Ono, M Perretti, F. D'Acquisto: The Impact of environmental enrichment on the murine inflammatory immune response. JCI insight. (2017); 2(7):e90723. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.90723.

L. Rattazzi, G. Piras, S. Brod, K. Smith, M. Ono, and F. D'Acquisto, Impact of Enriched Environment on Murine T Cell Differentiation and Gene Expression Profile. Front Immunol 7 (2016) 381.

F. D'Acquisto, Editorial overview: Immunomodulation: Exploiting the circle between emotions and immunity: impact on pharmacological treatments. Curr Opin Pharmacol 29 (2016) viii-xii

B. Major, L. Rattazzi, S. Brod, I. Pilipovic, G. Leposavic, and F. D'Acquisto, Massage-like stroking boosts the immune system in mice. Sci Rep 5 (2015) 1091

F. D'Acquisto, L. Rattazzi, and G. Piras, Smile--It's in your blood! Biochem Pharmacol 91 (2014) 287-92.

S. Brod, L. Rattazzi, G. Piras, and F. D'Acquisto, 'As above, so below' examining the interplay between emotion and the immune system. Immunology 143 (2014) 311-8.

G. Piras, L. Rattazzi, A. McDermott, R. Deacon, and F. D'Acquisto, Emotional change-associated T cell mobilization at the early stage of a mouse model of multiple sclerosis. Front Immunol 4 (2013) 400.

L. Rattazzi, G. Piras, M. Ono, R. Deacon, C.M. Pariante, and F. D'Acquisto, CD4(+) but not CD8(+) T cells revert the impaired emotional behavior of immunocompromised RAG-1-deficient mice. Transl Psychiatry 3 (2013) e280.

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