The immune cells play several important roles within the body,
including guarding against pathogens and triggering allergic reactions.
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
supporting our healthy mental functioning.
‘The newly discovered immune cells may play a critical in battling Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, meningitis and other neurological diseases, in addition to supporting 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
Further, University of Virginia 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 researcher 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
"This all comes down to immune system and brain interaction," said
Kipnis, chairman of UVA's Department of Neuroscience. "The two were
believed to be completely not communicating, but now we're slowly,
slowly filling in this puzzle. Not only are these [immune] cells present
in the areas near the brain, they are integral to its function. When
the brain is injured, when the spinal cord is injured, without them, the
recovery is much, much worse."
Curiously, the immune cells were found along the vessels discovered
by Kipnis' team. "They're right on the lymphatics, which is really
weird," noted researcher Sachin Gadani. "You have the lymphatics and
they're stacked right on top. They're not inside of them - they're
Important Immune Role
In exploring the role of immune cells in protecting the brain, the Kipnis team has
determined they are vital in the body's response to spinal cord
injuries. But it's their role in the gut that makes Kipnis suspect they
may be serving as a vital communicator between the brain's immune
response and our microbiomes. That could be of great importance, because
our intestinal flora is critical for maintaining our health and
"These cells are potentially the mediator between the gut and the
brain. They are the main responder to microbiota changes in the gut.
They may go from the gut to the brain, or they may just produce
something that will impact those cells. But you see them in the gut and
now you see them also in the brain," Kipnis said. "We know the brain
responds to things happening in the gut. Is it logical that these will
be the cells that connect the two? Potentially. We don't know that, but
it very well could be."
While much more research needs to be done to understand the role of
these cells in the meninges, Gadani noted that it's almost certain that
the cells are important in a variety of neurological conditions. "It
would be inconceivable they're not playing a role in migraines and
certain conditions like that," he said. "The long-term goal of this
would be developing drugs for targeting these cells. I think it could be
highly efficacious in migraine, multiple sclerosis and possibly other