Ready for a new textbook? It has been common teaching the brain lacked any immune vessels of its own. A University of Virginia School of Medicine study highlighted by Neuroscience News changes that. Why did the discovery elude researchers for so long?

The lymphatic vessels are extremely well hidden. There’s a lot going on in our heads. Even in the brains’ of reality stars…

In the brain, the lymphatic system follows a major blood vessel down into the sinuses. Borrowing a path and routing through the sinuses made the vessels hard to image. Jonathan Kipnis, Ph.D., professor of UVA’s Neuroscience department summed up the dilemma:

“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.”

The discovery was brought about by one researcher who discovered the vessels in a mouse’s brain. Developing a method of mounting the meninges that cover the brain so they could be viewed on a single slide turned into a major discovery.

It’s amazing the find was brought on by a researcher looking to make life easier when viewing brain structures.

Brain and Immune System Implications

The discovery doesn’t just change textbooks. It has the possibility to influence therapies and treatment protocols for a variety of neurological diseases. Autism, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis are just the tip of a giant neurological iceberg.

uva immune system and brain

The chairman of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience, Kevin Lee, Ph.D., explained his reaction at first:

“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.”

When showed the results, he had just one sentence for the team:

“They’ll have to change the textbooks.”

Moving forward, knowing the brain has a direct connection with the immune system changes how researchers approach neurological conditions. They can now ask mechanical questions. If the disease has an immune component, the vessels should play a major role.

Treatments can be developed based on direct responses on the brain’s lymphatic system. While the shotgun approach to tackling neurological conditions will continue, teams can now approach diseases such as MS with an eye towards activating the brain’s immune system response.

It’s a hell of a discovery. Not only is it cool we are sitting in the middle of 2015 and still mapping our body’s internal structure, but it offers hope to people suffering from neurological diseases.

The study is in the June 1 issue of Nature.

Image Credit: UVA Health System

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