Researchers from the University of Virginia’s neuroscience department have reportedly found a direct link between our immune system and our brain, which could offer a better chance at combating neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism. The study was published on June 1st in Nature journal.
The most outstanding aspect of the discovery was the fact that it challenges notions about human anatomy which were thought to be set in stone for decades, such as the mapping of the lymphatic system. Vessels which have until now escaped detection lie in there and assure a connection between our brain and our immune system.
“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?’ now we can approach this mechanistically. Because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels. It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions” said Professor Dr. Jonathan Kipnis, one of the study’s authors and director of the UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia.
The lymphatic vessels are hidden by a major blood vessel inside the lymphatic system, the mechanism required for carrying lymph around – a white blood cell-riddled fluid which helps combat body toxins. They were initially discovered on mouse specimens with highly powered microscope, and then confirmed to exist in humans as well.
In interpreting the results, Kipnis also believes that the hidden vessels are there to play a part in neurological diseases which trigger reactions of the immune system. The most important aspect is how this can shift perspective when it comes to treating serious neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, autism or multiple sclerosis.
The role that these newly-discovered vessels play in such conditions has yet to be determined, but Kipnis already has a theory regarding Alzheimer’s. People suffering from Alzheimer’s show unusually high concentrations of protein in the brain, and this might come down to the lymphatic vessels being responsible for filtering protein. Because of the fact that the vessels look different based on their owner’s age, this might suggest that they degrade with time, and offers a valid explanation for the prevalence of the disease in older individuals.
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