AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 3, 2017

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UVA Discovers Powerful Defenders of the Brain - With Big Implications for Disease and Inquiry

Rare immune cells found in unexpected place; may be missing link between brain and gut

A rare and powerful type of immune cell has been discovered in the meninges around the brain, suggesting the cells may play a critical but previously unappreciated role in battling Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, meningitis and other neurological diseases, in addition to support our healthy mental functioning. By harnessing the cells’ power, doctors may be able to develop new treatments for neurological diseases, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injuries – even migraines. Further, School of Medicine researchers suspect the cells may be the missing link connecting the brain and the microbiota in our guts, a relationship already shown important in the development of Parkinson’s disease. The cells, known as “type 2 innate lymphocytes,” previously have been found in the gut, lung and skin – the body’s barriers to disease. Their discovery in the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain, comes as a surprise. They were found as UVA researchers Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, explored the implications of his lab’s game-changing discovery last year that the brain and the immune system are directly connected via vessels long thought not to exist.

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