What if everything you knew about your lymphatic system was wrong ... or at the very least, incomplete?
Research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine indicates that the brain is linked to the immune system in a way we never thought possible. And now this new piece of information may eventually make all the difference in the world in how we treat neurological diseases.
It had been believed that there was no connection between the lymphatic system and the brain. Until now.
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. Lymph is immune flulid circulating throughout the body. It contains white blood cells that fight infection and remove unhealthy cells via the lymphatic drainage system. The lymphatic system also eliminates excess fluid from tissue.
Now it has been learned that the brain's outer layers have lymphatic vessels that connect the brain and the spinal cord with the immune system. This could ultimately lead to great advances in what we thought we knew about diseases of brain degeneration or inflammation.
How we think about the brain may be on the brink of being re-evaluated. New insights into diseases like Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis may soon be on the horizon.
Chairman of the UVA Department of Neuroscience Kevin Lee, PhD, was reported as saying in a EurkeAlert! public release that the new data "will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system's relationship with the immune system."
Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, professor in the UVA Department of Neuroscience and director of UVA's Center for Brain Immunology and Glia led his team in the research. Kipnis and his team were studying T-cells which are immune cells that report problems in the body to the rest of the immune system.
Researchers, using special techniques, were able to observe that in the meninges (outer protective layers) of the mouse brain in the study, had functional lymphatic vessels that closely followed blood vessels into the brain's sinuses. The vessels were linked to lymph nodes in the neck.
Lymphatic circulation transports fluid and immune cells from cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the brain and spinal cord) and could be the way the brain is exposed to sources of inflammation.
The possible implications of this study's findings are exciting but it is important to note that more research is needed. Humans and mice are not the same, and what applies clearly to mice may not necessarily apply so clearly to human beings.
This research was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal called Nature.
Missing link found between brain, immune system -- with major disease implications. EurekAlert.org. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
Game-Changing Discovery Links the Brain and the Immune System. Time.com. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
'Missing link' between brain and immune system discovered. NHS.uk. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
Scientists Discover A New Link Between The Brain And The Immune System. Io9.com. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
Reviewed July 7, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN