Immunoceptive inference: why are psychiatric disorders and immune responses intertwined?

Biology and Philosophy 36 (3):1-24 (2021)
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There is a steadily growing literature on the role of the immune system in psychiatric disorders. So far, these advances have largely taken the form of correlations between specific aspects of inflammation (e.g. blood plasma levels of inflammatory markers, genetic mutations in immune pathways, viral or bacterial infection) with the development of neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression. A fundamental question remains open: why are psychiatric disorders and immune responses intertwined? To address this would require a step back from a historical mind–body dualism that has created such a dichotomy. We propose three contributions of active inference when addressing this question: translation, unification, and simulation. To illustrate these contributions, we consider the following questions. Is there an immunological analogue of sensory attenuation? Is there a common generative model that the brain and immune system jointly optimise? Can the immune response and psychiatric illness both be explained in terms of self-organising systems responding to threatening stimuli in their external environment, whether those stimuli happen to be pathogens, predators, or people? Does false inference at an immunological level alter the message passing at a psychological level (or vice versa) through a principled exchange between the two systems?



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