Infectious Biology: Curse or Blessing? Reflections on Biology in Other Disciplines, with a Case Study of Migraine

  • Wim J. van der Steen


Biology has come to play important roles in many other disciplines. Some applications of evolutionary thought outside biology are disappointing, but promising approaches are feasible in medicine. Biology has a rich store of valuable knowledge extending to evolution, which is often disregarded in medicine. For example, the role of omega-3 fatty acids in the genesis of disease deserves much more attention. Biomedical research should pay more attention to higher levels of organization and to functional explanation. A case study of migraine illustrates all this. Biology is an infectious discipline in that parts of it are incorporated in many disciplines. But in the process of incorporation it is often distorted by transformations and omissions. Nobody would deny that applications of biology to medicine, for example, often amount to a blessing. At the same time, some distortions of biology may tend to transform blessings into a curse.


aura dietary deficiency endothelium evolutionary psychiatry evolutionary psychology evolutionary medicine fatty acid functional explanation level of organization migraine platelet serotonin vasopressin 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Almallah, Y. Z., S. W. Ewe, A. El-Tahir, N. A. Mowat, P. W. Brunt, T. S. Sinclair, S. D. Heys and O. Eremin (2000). Distal proctocolitis and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs): The mucosal effect in situ. Journal of Clinical Immunology 20: 68–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Appenzeller, O. (1991). Pathogenesis of migraine. Medical Clinics of North America 75: 763–789.Google Scholar
  3. Backer, M., D. Sander, M. G. Hammes, D. Funke, M. Deppe, B. Conrad and T. R. Tolle (2001). Altered cerebrovascular response pattern in interictal migraine during visual stimulation. Cephalalgia 21: 611–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Banks, W. A., A. J. Kastin and S. I. Rapoport (1997). Permeability of the blood-brain barrier to circulating free fatty acids. In: Yehuda, S. and D. I. Mostofsky (Eds). Handbook of Essential Fatty Acid Biology: Biochemistry, Physiology, and Behavioural Neurobiology. Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey. pp. 3–14.Google Scholar
  5. Barkow, J., L. Cosmides and J. Tooby (Eds) (1992). The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  6. Bjorklund, D. F., and D. Pellegrini (2002). The Origins of Human Nature: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology. American Psychological Association, Washington.Google Scholar
  7. Boska, M. D., K. M. Welch, P. B. Barker, J. A. Nelson and L. Schultz (2002). Contrasts in cortical magnesium, phospholipid and energy metabolism between migraine syndromes. Neurology 58: 1227–1233.Google Scholar
  8. Brandon, R. N. (1990). Adaptation and Environment. Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  9. Burian, R., R. C. Richardson and W. J. van der Steen (1996). Against generality: Meaning and reference in genetics and philosophy. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 27: 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buschmann, J., G. Leppla-Wollsiffer, N. Nemeth, K. Nelson and R. Kirsten (1996). Migraine patients show increased platelet vasopressin receptors. Headache 36: 586–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Buss, D. M. (1995). Evolutionary psychology: A new paradigm for social science. Psychological Inquiry 6: 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Buss, D. M. (1998). Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind. Allyn and Bacon, Boston.Google Scholar
  13. Cady, R. K. (1999). Diagnosis and treatment of migraine. Clinical Cornerstone 1: 21–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chikanza, I. C. and A. S. Grossman (1998). Hypothalamic-pituitary-mediated immunomodulation: Arginine vasopressin is a neuroendocrine immune mediator. British Journal of Rheumatology 37: 131–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clandinin, M. T. and J. Jumpsen (1997). Fatty acid metabolism in brain in relation to development, membrane structure, and signaling. In: Yehuda, S. and D. I. Mostofsky (Eds). Handbook of Essential Fatty Acid Biology: Biochemistry, Physiology, and Behavioural Neurobiology. Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey. pp. 15–65.Google Scholar
  16. Constantinescu, C. S. (2002). Migraine and Raynaud phenomenon: Possible late complications of Kawasaki disease. Headache 42: 227–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cosmides, L. and J. Tooby (1994). Beyond intuition and instinct blindness: Toward an evolutionary rigorous cognitive science. Cognition 50: 41–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Covelli, V., A. B. Maffione, C. Nacci, E. Tato and E. Jirillo (1998). Stress, neuropsychiatric disorders and immunological effects exerted by benzodiazepines. Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology 20: 199–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Daly, M. and M. Wilson (1988a). Homicide. Aldine de Gruyter Hawthorne, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Daly, M. and M. Wilson (1988b). Evolutionary social psychology and family homicide. Science 242: 519–524.Google Scholar
  21. Daly, M. and M. Wilson (1998). The Truth about Cinderella: A Darwinian View of Parental Love. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.Google Scholar
  22. Davidoff, R. A. (2002). Migraine: Manifestations, Pathogenesis, and Management (second edition). Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  23. Davies, P. S. (1996). Discovering the functional mesh: On the methods of evolutionary psychology. Minds and Machines 6: 559–585.Google Scholar
  24. De Tommaso, M., D. Murasecco, G. Libro, M. Guido, V. Sciruicchio, L. M. Specchio, V. Gallai and F. Puca (2002). Modulation of trigeminal reflex excitability in migraine: Effects of attention and habituation on the blink reflex. International Journal of Psychophysiology 44: 239–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Diamond, S. and R. Wenzel (2002). Practical approaches to migraine management. CNS Drugs 16: 385–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dreier, J. P., J. Kleeberg, G. Petzold, J. Priller, O. Windmuller, H. D. Orzechowski, U. Lindauer, U. Heinemann, K. M. Einhaupl and U. Dirnagl (2002). Endothelin-1 potently induces Leao's cortical spreading depression in vivo in the rat: a model for an endothelial trigger of migrainous aura? Brain 125: 102–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Eaton, S. B. and M. Konner (1985). Palaeolithic nutrition: A consideration of its nature and current implications. New England Journal of Medicine 312: 283–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Empl, M., P. Sostak, M. Breckner, M. Riedel, N. Muller, R. Gruber, S. Forderreuther and A. Straube (1999). T-cell subsets and expression of integrins in peripheral blood of patients with migraine. Cephalalgia 19: 713–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Engler, M. B., M. M. Engler, A. Browne, Y. P. Sun and R. Sievers (2000). Mechanisms of vasorelaxation induced by eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) in WKY rat aorta. British Journal of Pharmacology 131: 1793–1799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Erasmus, U. (1993). Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill (second edition). Alive Books, Burnaby.Google Scholar
  31. Ewald, P. W. (1994). Evolution of Infectious Diseases. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.Google Scholar
  32. Flammer, J., M. Pache and T. Resink (2001). Vasospasm, its role in the pathogenesis of diseases with particular reference to the eye. Progress in Retinal Eye Research 20: 319–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Frank, S. A. (2002). Immunology and Evolution of Infectious Disease. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.Google Scholar
  34. Giffin, N. J. and H. Kaube (2002). The electrophysiology of migraine. Current Opinions in Neurology 15: 303–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Greenblatt, C. and M. Spigelman (2003). Emerging Pathogens: Archaeology, Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.Google Scholar
  36. Griffiths, P. E. (1996). The historical turn in the study of adaptation. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47: 511–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Grimble, R. F. (2001). Nutritional modulation of immune function. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 60: 389–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Grimm, H., K. Mayer, P. Mayser and E. Eigenbrodt (2002). Regulatory potential of n-3 fatty acids in immunological and inflammatory processes. British Journal of Nutrition 87, Supplement 1: S59–S67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Guidetti, V., F. Galli, P. Fabrizi, A. S. Giannantoni, L. Napoli, O. Bruni and S. Trillo (1998). Headache and psychiatric comorbidity: clinical aspects and outcome in an 8-year follow-up study. Cephalalgia 18: 455–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Gupta, V. K. (1997). A clinical review of the adaptive role of vasopressin in migraine. Cephalalgia 17: 561–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hamazaki, T., S. Sawazaki, M. Itomura, E. Asaoka, Y. Nagao, N. Nishimura, K. Yasawa, T. Kuwamori and M. Kobayashi (1996). The effect of docosaheaxaenoic acid on agression in young adults. Journal of Clinical Investigation 97: 1129–1134.Google Scholar
  42. Hamazaki, T., A. Thienprasert, K. Kheovichai, S. Samuhaseneetoo, T. Nagasawa and S. Watanabe (2002). The effect of docosahexaenoic acid on aggression in elderly Thai subjects-a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Nutrional Neuroscience 5: 37–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hanington, E., R. J. Jones, J. A. Amess and B. Wachowicz (1981). Migraine: A platelet disorder. Lancet 2: 720–723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hasselblatt, M., J. Kohler., E. Volles and H. Ehrenreich (1999). Simultaneous monitoring of endothelin-1 and vasopressin plasma levels in migraine. Neuroreport 10: 423–425.Google Scholar
  45. Harel, Z., G. Gascon, S. Riggs, R. Vaz, W. Brown and G. Exil (2002). Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of recurrent migraines in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health 31: 54–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Healy, D. (2002). The Creation of Psychopharmacology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  47. Hellstrom, H. R. (1999). The altered homeostatic theory: A holistic approach to multiple diseases, including atherosclerosis, ischemic diseases, and hypertension. Medical Hypotheses 53: 194–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Holman, R. T. (1997). Omega3 and omega6 essential fatty acid status in human health and disease. In: Yehuda, S. and D. I. Mostofsky (Eds). Handbook of Essential Fatty Acid Biology: Biochemistry, Physiology, and Behavioural Neurobiology. Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey. pp. 139–182.Google Scholar
  49. Horrobin, D. F. (1997). Fatty acids, phospholipids, and schizophrenia. In: Yehuda, S. and D. I. Mostofsky (Eds). Handbook of Essential Fatty Acid Biology: Biochemistry, Physiology, and Behavioural Neurobiology. Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey. pp. 245–256.Google Scholar
  50. Horrobin, D. F., K. Jenkins, C. N. Bennett and W. W. Christie (2002). Eicosapentaenoic acid and arachidonic acid: Collaboration and not antagonism is the key to biological understanding. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 66: 83–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Jamin, S. P., M. Crabos, M. Catheline, C. Martin-Chouly, A. B. Legrand and B. Saiag (1999). Eicosapentaenoic acid reduces thrombin-evoked release of endothelin-1 in cultured bovine endothelial cells. Research Communications in Molecular Patholology and Pharmacology 105: 271–281.Google Scholar
  52. Johnson, S. (2001). The multifaceted and widespread pathology of magnesium deficiency. Medical Hypotheses 56: 163–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Katz, R., J. A. Hamilton, A. A. Spector, S. A. Moore, H. W. Moser, M. J. Noetzel and P. A. Watkins (2001). Brain uptake and utilization of fatty acids: Recommendations for future research. Journal of Molecular Neuroscience 16: 333–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Keys, A. (1970). Coronary heart disease in seven countries. Circulation 41,Supplement: S1–S211.Google Scholar
  55. Laland, K. N., and G. R. Brown (2002). Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.Google Scholar
  56. Lloyd, E. A. (1999). Evolutionary psychology: The burdens of proof. Biology and Philosophy 14: 211–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Looren de Jong, H. and W. J. van der Steen (1998). Biological thinking in evolutionary psychology: Rockbottom or quicksand? Philosophical Psychology 11: 183–205.Google Scholar
  58. Martelletti, P., J. Sutherland, E. Anastasi, U. Di Mario and M. Giacovazzo (1989). Evidence for an immune-mediated mechanism in food-induced migraine from a study on activated T-cells, IgG4 subclass, anti-IgG antibodies and circulating immune complexes. Headache 29: 664–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mauskop, A., B. T. Altura and B. M. Altura (2002). Serum ionized magnesium levels and serum ionized calcium / ionized magnesium ratios in women with menstrual migraine. Headache 42: 242–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Mayer, K., M. Merfels, M. Muhly-Reinholz, S. Gokorsch, S. Rosseau, J. Lohmeyer, N. Schwarzer, M. Krull, N. Suttorp, F. Grimminger and W. Seeger (2002). Omega-3 fatty acids suppress monocyte adhesion to human endothelial cells: role of endothelial PAF generation. American Journal of Physiology, Heart and Circulatory Physiology 283: H811–H818.Google Scholar
  61. Mezei, Z., B. Kis, A. Gecse, J. Tajti, B. Boda, G. Telegdy and L. Vecsei (2000). Platelet arachidonate cascade of migraineurs in the interictal phase. Platelets 11: 222–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Moberg, G.P. and J. A. Mench (Eds) (2000). The Biology of Animal Stress: Basic Principles and Implications for Animal Welfare. CAB Publishing, New York.Google Scholar
  63. Nesse, R. M. and G. C. Williams (1994). Why We Get Sick. Times Books, New York.Google Scholar
  64. Nesse, R. M. and G. C. Williams (1998). Evolution and the origins of disease. Scientific American November: 58–65.Google Scholar
  65. Peet, M., J. Brind, C. N. Ramchand, S. Shah and G. K. Vankar (2001). Two double-blind placebo-controlled pilot studies of eicosapentaenoic acid in the treatment of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research 49: 243–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Peet, M. and D. F. Horrobin (2002). A dose-ranging exploratory study of the effects of ethyl-eicosapentaenoate in patients with persistent schizophrenic symptoms. Journal of Psychiatric Research 36: 7–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pradalier, A., P. Bakouche, G. Baudesson, A. Delage, G. Cornaille-Lafage, J. M. Launay and P. Biason (2001). Failure of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in prevention of migraine: A double-blind study versus placebo. Cephalalgia 21: 818–822.Google Scholar
  68. Puri, B. K., G. M. Bydder, S. J. Counsell, B. J. Corridan, A. J. Richardson, J. V. Hajnal, C. Appel, H. M. Mckee, K. S. Vaddadi and D. F. Horrobin (2002). MRI and neuropsychological improvement in Huntington disease following ethyl-EPA treatment. Neuroreport 13: 123–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Richardson, R. C. (1996). Critical notice: Robert N. Brandon, adaptation and environment. Philosophy of Science 63: 122–136.Google Scholar
  70. Rose, S. (2000). Colonising the social sciences? In: Rose, H. and S. Rose (Eds). Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology. Jonathan Cape, London. pp. 106–128.Google Scholar
  71. Sacks, O. (1985). Migraine: Revised and Expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  72. Scott, L. V. and T. G. Dinan (1998). Vasopressin and the regulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function: Implications for the pathophysiology of depression. Life Sciences 62: 1985–1998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Serhan, C. N. and E. Oliw (2001). Unorthodox routes to prostanoid formation: New twists in cyclooxygenase-initiated pathways. Journal of Clinical Investigation 107: 1481–1489.Google Scholar
  74. Sethi, S., O. Ziouzenkova, H. Ni, D. D. Wagner, J. Plutzky and T. N. Mayadas (2002). Oxidized omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil inhibit leukocyte-endothelial interactions through activation of PPAR alpha. Blood 100: 1340–1346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sheftell, F. D. and S. J. Tepper (2002). New paradigms in the recognition and acute treatment of migraine. Headache 42: 58–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Shimokawa, H. (2001). Beneficial effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on endothelial vasodilator functions in animals and humans. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics 88: 100–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Silberstein, S. D. (2001). Shared mechanisms and comorbidities in neurologic and psychiatric disorders. Headache 41,Supplement 1: S11–S17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Simopoulos, A. P. (2001). The mediterranian diets: What is so special about the diet of Greece? Journal of Nutrition 131: S3065–S3073.Google Scholar
  79. Smith, R. S. (1992). The cytokine theory of headache. Medical Hypotheses 39: 168–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Stevens, A. and J. Price (1996). Evolutionary Psychiatry: A New Beginning. Routledge, London and New York.Google Scholar
  81. Stoll, A. L. (2001). The Omega-3 Connection. Simon & Schuster, New York.Google Scholar
  82. Swanson, D. R. (1986). Fish oil, Raynaud's syndrome, and undiscovered public knowledge. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 30: 7–17.Google Scholar
  83. Swanson, D. R. (1987). Two medical literatures that are logically but not bibliographically connected. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 38: 228–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Swanson, D. R. (1988). Migraine and magnesium: Eleven neglected connections. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 31: 527–557.Google Scholar
  85. Swanson, D. R. (1990). Medical literature as a potential source of new knowledge. Bulletin of the Medical Libraries Association 78: 29–37.Google Scholar
  86. Swanson, D. R. (1991). Complementary structures in disjoint science literatures. SIGIR91: Proceedings of the 14th annual international ACM. ACM Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  87. Swanson, D. R. (2001). ASIST award of merit acceptance speech on the fragmentation of knowledge, the connection explosion, and assembling other people's ideas. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, February/March: 12–14.Google Scholar
  88. Swanson, D. R. and N. R. Smalheiser (1997). An interactive system for finding complementary literatures: A stimulus to scientific discovery. Artificial Intelligence 91: 183–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Swanson, D. R. and N. R. Smalheiser (1999). Implicit text linkages between Medline records: Using Arrowsmith as an aid to scientific discovery. Library Trends 48: 48–59.Google Scholar
  90. Terada, S., M. Takizawa, S. Yamamoto, O. Ezaki, H. Itakura and K. S. Akagawa (2001). Suppressive mechanisms of EPA on human T cell proliferation. Microbiology and Immunology 45: 473–481.Google Scholar
  91. Van der Steen, W. J. (1993). A Practical Philosophy for the Life Sciences. SUNY Press, Albany.Google Scholar
  92. Van der Steen, W. J. (2000). Evolution as Natural History: A Philosophical Analysis. Praeger, Westport.Google Scholar
  93. Van der Steen, W. J. (2003). Assessing overmedication: Biology, philosophy and common sense. Acta Biotheoretica 51: 151–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Van der Steen, W. J. and V. K. Y. Ho (2001a). Methods and Morals in the Life Sciences: A Guide for Analyzing and Writing Texts. Praeger, Westport.Google Scholar
  95. Van der Steen, W. J. and V. K. Y. Ho (2001b). Drugs versus diets: Disillusions with Dutch health care. Acta Biotheoretica 49: 125–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Van der Steen, W. J., V. K. Y. Ho and F. J. Karmelk (2003). Beyond Boundaries of Biomedicine: Pragmatic Perspectives on Health and Disease. Rodopi, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  97. Voulgari, P. V., Y. Alamanos, D. Papazisi, K. Christou, C. Papanikolaou and A. A. Drosos (2000). Prevalence of Raynaud's phenomenon in a healthy Greek population. Annals of Rheumatic Diseases 59: 206–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Wilson, D. S. (2002). Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.Google Scholar
  99. Yamada, N., J. Shimizu, M. Wada, T. Takita and S. Innami (1998). Changes in platelet aggregation and lipid metabolism in rats given dietary lipids containing different n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo) 44: 279–289.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wim J. van der Steen
    • 1
  1. 1.AmstelveenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations