It has been known for some time that one’s attitude and outlook on life can affect their susceptibility to getting sick and the degree and pace of their recovery. In short, having an upbeat attitude and optimistic view of their current and future life tends to be beneficial in this regard. However, the molecular mechanisms responsible for this effect have remained enigmatic.
Similarly, the Placebo Effect, which is the tendency for a patient’s condition to improve when they have been given an inert pill or other “treatment,” especially if delivered by a medical professional, has been a factor accounted for in medicine for centuries. For example, clinical trials for experimental drugs always include a treatment arm (the patients receiving the experimental drug), and these patients are always compared to the control arm (patients who receive the placebo but not the drug). Despite this, the molecular mechanisms responsible for the placebo effect have never been fully elucidated.
In other words, the brain can impact non-neurological diseases and influence their response to treatment. But how exactly does the brain do this? What part of the brain is responsible, and what neural pathways convey the mysterious signal? More specifically, what is the signal and what genes/proteins/RNAs/lipids are involved in its generation and propagation, and how is the signal perceived by the receiving tissue? Most importantly, how can we mimic or amplify these signals pharmacologically? A better understanding of these phenomena at the molecular level would lead to the development of new drugs.