Contrary to previous assumption, there may be a direct connection between the immune system and the brain. This is true! What’s more, this discovery could lead to possible cures or treatments for various immune system ailments and diseases.
Wait a minute, this is a radical statement. Ideas this bold require plenty of testing to prove true, wouldn’t you say? This was the next step.
Professor Jonathan Kipnis of the University of Virginia claims in the journal Nature, after centuries of studies-dissections, to be exact, that a system of lymphatic tissue has survived unnoticed. A network of lymphatic vessels is hiding alongside blood vessels.
“The whole idea of the neuro-immune interaction changes,” says Kipnis. “Before, this couldn’t be studied, but now we can ask all sorts of mechanistic questions.”
The immune system wages war on the brain when things go haywire. MS (Multiple Sclerosis), is a prime example of the brain being attacked by the immune system. The reason for this is widely unknown. If we can understand how the lymphatic vessels create a connection between the brain and the immune system, we can understand why MS symptoms occur and how to stop them. Alzheimer’s may also be directly related to this connection. This disease is simply an over accumulation of protein in the lymphatic vessels, prohibiting these vessels to do their job.
“For every neurological disease, there is a component of the immune system present. The lymphatic vessels play an important part in this happening.”
Valuable information, such as this, was discovered by Dr. Antoine Louveau. In Kipnis’ lab, Louveau mounted mouse meninges (membranes of the brain), onto a slide. Within the Dural sinuses, areas that drain blood from the brain, the doctor noticed linear patterns in the immune T-cell arrangement.
Although Kipnis was unsure of the findings, further research convinced him of the truth.
“These discoveries, as far as I knew, ended in the mid-20th century.”
Kipnis and a group of researchers from Virginia’s neuroscience institute were convinced that the vessels were real. They also learned that these vessels carried white blood cells and existed in humans, as well as in mice. This network of vessels was found originating from both eyes, above the olfactory nerve and aligning across from the sinuses.
Dr. Taji Harris is credited for capturing the vessels in action in live animals. Louveau also credits the discovery of fixing the skullcap to the meninges instead of the other way round. With this issue, along with the proximity of the network to blood vessels, is why the connection wasn’t discovered earlier.
The study authors say:
“The vessels show all hallmarks of lymphatic endothelial cells, are connected to deep cervical lymph nodes and can carry fluid and immune cells from the cerebrospinal fluid.”
There are unique features of the network: they are not as complex and made of narrow vessels. Otherwise, the network has several resemblances to the peripheral lymphatic system. Discoveries back findings that immune cells occupy all sorts of human brains.
Until recently, the whole idea of immune system/brain connection was doubted among the majority. Thanks to science, we get to rethink this idea and learn more about our own bodies and minds, thus finding ways to live longer and in better health. Isn’t learning great!