Brain directly connected to immune system, says study

Posted on Jul 30, 2015 in Medical Rewind

Listen to what Dr. Rashid A. Buttar and Robert Scott Bell have to say about this article on the June 8th Medical Rewind Show


In a discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers have found that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.

The discovery could have profound implications for diseases from autism to Alzheimer’s to multiple sclerosis, researchers said.

“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,” said Jonathan Kipnis, professor in the University of Virginia Department of Neuroscience and director of UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG).

“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,” he said. Prof. Kipnis admitted that he was initially sceptical.

“I really did not believe there are structures in the body that we are not aware of. I thought the body was mapped,” he said.

The discovery was made possible by the work of Antoine Louveau, a postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Kipnis’ lab.

The vessels were detected after Mr. Louveau developed a method to mount a mouse’s meninges — the membranes covering the brain — on a single slide so that they could be examined as a whole.

After noticing vessel-like patterns in the distribution of immune cells on his slides, he tested for lymphatic vessels and found them.As to how the brain’s lymphatic vessels managed to escape notice all this time, Prof. Kipnis described them as “very well hidden” and noted that they follow a major blood vessel down into the sinuses, an area difficult to image.

“It’s so close to the blood vessel, you just miss it. If you don’t know what you’re after, you just miss it,” he said.

The unexpected presence of the lymphatic vessels raises a tremendous number of questions that now need answers, both about the workings of the brain and the diseases that plague it, researchers said. — PTI

Source: The Hindu