The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell That Changed the Course of Medicine

Ballantine. Jan. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781524799175. $28. PSYCH
Nakazawa (Childhood Interrupted) opens this painstakingly researched investigation of autoimmune, psychiatric, and neuropsychiatric diseases with her own personal medical history. In 2001, the author developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which the autoimmune system attacks the nerves. Unable to walk for five years, she eventually recovered physically but continued to experience unsettling cognitive symptoms. Incidentally, a friend was simultaneously having similar lapses in memory after developing Crohn’s disease. Hypothesizing a mind/body/disease connection, Nakazawa interviewed researchers, physicians, and patients, uncovering strong evidence to support her thesis. Her findings challenged the enduring belief that the brain is “immune-privileged” and therefore protected from the immune system. Here, Nakazawa argues for the significant function of microglial cells to build up or break down the brain. Consequently, their role in brain health illuminates the etiology of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. Applauding this discovery, Nakazawa predicts positive treatment outcomes.
VERDICT Indispensable for psychology professionals and students and fans of Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.
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