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Shacking up is good for you (if you're a mouse)

March 23, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Researchers have long known that marriage is good for your health, but they don't understand all the reasons why. Some mice in Columbus, Ohio, offer new evidence that there's more to it than one spouse nagging the other to go to the doctor.

Simply living with another mouse drastically improved the odds of recovering from a surgically induced stroke, according to a study published online today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Graduate student Kate Karelina and colleagues induced strokes in 20 male mice. Half of them were bachelors, and only 40% survived for an entire week. The other half lived with female partners, and all of them lived that long.

The researchers examined the rodents' brain tissue and found four times as much damage in the isolated mice compared with the ones who were shacked up. The cohabitating mice also had much less swelling, which contributes to brain damage.

In a series of experiments, the scientists determined that the benefits of shacking up became apparent within 24 hours after the stroke, according to the study. The mice who lived with females had higher levels of a signaling molecule called interleukin-6 in their brains; IL-6 has an anti-inflammatory affect that limits damage from a stroke. Two genes that are linked to inflammation are also much less active in the brains of cohabitating mice than in the bachelors.

The findings could help pharmaceutical companies design a drug that would limit inflammation in the brain after a stroke, the researchers said in a statement.

-- Karen Kaplan

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