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Natural Awakenings Boston

Scientists Reveal Direct Link Between Brain and Immune System

In a remarkable discovery, 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. The discovery could have profound implications for the treatment of diseases, from autism, to Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.

“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?’ and ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?’ now we can approach this mechanistically,” says Jonathan Kipnis, a neuroscience professor and director of UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role.”

The discovery was made possible by the work of Antoine Louveau, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Kipnis’ lab. Kipnis says that the findings will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system’s relationship with the immune system. As to how the brain’s lymphatic vessels managed to escape notice before this, Kipnis noted that they follow a major blood vessel down into the sinuses, an area that is difficult to image. The unexpected presence of these vessels raises many questions about the workings of the brain and the diseases that plague it. Neurological diseases, from autism to multiple sclerosis, must now be reconsidered in light of these groundbreaking findings.