Landmark Study Finds Previously Unknown Link Between The Brain And Immune System

brain immune system

Neuroscientists have uncovered a previously unknown direct connection between the brain and the immune system — a finding that could have significant implications for the treatment of brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and autism.

The discovery came as a surprise to Dr. Kevin Lee, chairman of the University of Virginia’s neuroscience department.

“The first time these guys showed me the basic result, I just said one sentence: ‘They’ll have to change the textbooks,’” Lee said in a press release Monday.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Jonathan Kipnis of the University of Virginia’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, echoed the sentiment in an email to The Huffington Post.

“When we discovered the lymphatic vessels we were very very surprised, because based on the textbooks — these vessels do not exist,” Kipnis said.

A direct connection. While previous research held that there was no direct connection between the brain and the lymphatic system, the new findings, which were recently published in the journal Nature, present a model of the lymphatic system that includes the brain.

Though not a part of the immune system, the lymphatic system carries lymph, a clear fluid filled with white blood cells that helps remove toxins from the body. The lymphatic system is connected to every other system in the body, and was believed to end at the base of the skull.

But the researchers noticed something strange while looking through their microscopes at slides containing the membranes of mice’s brains. They saw lymphatic vessels, which had never before been observed above the base of the skull.

An old map of the lymphatic system (left), and a new map updated to reflect the discovery of the brain’s lymphatic vessels (right).

Why have they never been observed before? Kipnis explained that the vessels —> Read More