Menu
020 8543 3673

Scientific discovery

Published on: Sunday 17th January 2016

Summary:

In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers have determined 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.

Maps of the lymphatic system: old (left) and updated to reflect UVA's discovery: Credit: University of Virginia Health System.

In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist. That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer's disease to multiple sclerosis.

"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," said Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, professor in the UVA Department of Neuroscience and director of UVA's Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). "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."

"We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role," Kipnis said. "Hard to imagine that these vessels would not be involved in a [neurological] disease with an immune component."

New Discovery in Human Body

Kevin Lee, PhD, chairman of the UVA Department of Neuroscience, described his reaction to the discovery by Kipnis' lab: "The first time these guys showed me the basic result, I just said one sentence: 'They'll have to change the textbooks.' There has never been a lymphatic system for the central nervous system, and it was very clear from that first singular observation -- and they've done many studies since then to bolster the finding -- that it will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system's relationship with the immune system."

Even Kipnis was skeptical initially. "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. "I thought that these discoveries ended somewhere around the middle of the last century. But apparently they have not."

'Very Well Hidden'

The discovery was made possible by the work of Antoine Louveau, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Kipnis' lab. The vessels were detected after 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. "It was fairly easy, actually," he said. "There was one trick: We fixed the meninges within the skullcap, so that the tissue is secured in its physiological condition, and then we dissected it. If we had done it the other way around, it wouldn't have worked."

After noticing vessel-like patterns in the distribution of immune cells on his slides, he tested for lymphatic vessels and there they were. The impossible existed. The soft-spoken Louveau recalled the moment: "I called Jony [Kipnis] to the microscope and I said, 'I think we have something.'"

As to how the brain's lymphatic vessels managed to escape notice all this time, 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," he said. "If you don't know what you're after, you just miss it."

"Live imaging of these vessels was crucial to demonstrate their function, and it would not be possible without collaboration with Tajie Harris," Kipnis noted. Harris, a PhD, is an assistant professor of neuroscience and a member of the BIG center. Kipnis also saluted the "phenomenal" surgical skills of Igor Smirnov, a research associate in the Kipnis lab whose work was critical to the imaging success of the study.

Alzheimer's, Autism, MS and Beyond

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. For example, take Alzheimer's disease. "In Alzheimer's, there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain," Kipnis said. "We think they may be accumulating in the brain because they're not being efficiently removed by these vessels." He noted that the vessels look different with age, so the role they play in aging is another avenue to explore. And there's an enormous array of other neurological diseases, from autism to multiple sclerosis, that must be reconsidered in light of the presence of something science insisted did not exist.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Virginia Health System. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150601122445.htm

I damaged my knee in a motorcycle accident and have had trouble with it ever since. I work in the building trade and have to keep fit and active. Stephen has managed my knee and other associated problems, and without his skill I would not have been able to continue with my job. He has even enabled me to go skiing, although this was against his better judgment! If you are looking for an experienced osteopath, then you need look no further; his skill is unrivalled.

Dave D, Wallington

I have had several treatments with Steve over the years for neck pain, back pain and under active thyroid. Steve has natural healing hands as well as a bank of experience and knowledge, which enhance his effectiveness. He is a very skilled practitioner both sensitive and subtle with powerful results; I have completely recovered from these conditions.

Chrissie C Streatham

Just before Christmas, my back ‘went’. By ‘went’ I mean I could barely walk and had constant pain in my lower back and leg. I was off work and spent most of the time lying on the floor. I was treated by Stephen and Simon, both of whom have a professional but very calm manner – ideal for anyone who’s in a lot of pain. They identified muscle and sciatic nerve damage. They obviously knew what they were doing because the pain gradually started to ease, such that by the beginning of March I was back on the treadmill in the gym. Would I use SW19Osteopaths again? Definitely. Only this time I’d go sooner.

Sam B, SW19

Following a breech caesarean birth, Max developed a tendency to turn his head to one side, and he developed a visibly flattened side of head. We were fortunate enough to know Steve's expertise in paediatric osteopathy and it was clear to see how passionate and informed he was regarding treatments and possible outcomes. Throughout the non-invasive treatment we felt totally at ease with Steve, as did Max who fell asleep! I would highly recommend Steve. We are extremely grateful for his time, care and attention to detail.

Andreas, Bex and Max. Raynes Park

I thought the treatment for pain in my knee was excellent. I felt I was being considered as an individual as Stephen listened to everything I said and gave a treatment appropriate to my needs. His approach was non-invasive. I began to notice an improvement in my knee after a couple of days and the pain has not recurred. To me, it felt as if each treatment enabled my body to correct itself and rebalance.

Sabine, Wimbledon

I am just e-mailing you Stephen to let you know that my baby daughter’s tight tummy calmed down considerably after your treatment so thank you very much.

G. SW19

I started seeing Lara about my sinuses, which have cleared. She has also helped me with my neck pain and digestive problems. Thank you so much Lara.

Anne, Teacher

My daughter has just played her cello for the first time in four months without experiencing pain. Stephen, we are amazed and delighted!

J. Wimbledon

Over the last 6 months Lara has effectively used the Emmett Technique to eliminate my persistent lower back pain as well as foot and heel pain. She has also been able to relieve stress and tension from my neck and shoulders. The relief, as a result of her treatments, is immediate and long-lasting. I would highly recommend her treatments.

Amanda, Wimbledon

Stephen has been my osteopath for many years and has helped me recover from several serious operations. The atmosphere in the clinic is so calm and relaxing, and Stephen is an absolute professional in everything he does. He truly has healing hands.

Laura D