Researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery that changes our understanding of the human body - and has major implications for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis.
The team at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels that, to date, have been thought not to exist. Indeed, so fundamental is the discovery to the understanding of the human body that the team have highlighted that textbooks will have to be changed.
As well as having the power to offer new insights into how neurodegenerative diseases work, the findings open up brand new areas for research.
"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," explained Dr Kevin Lee, chairman of the UVA Department of Neuroscience in response to the discovery.
Published in Nature, the study raises a host of questions about the brain and the diseases that can affect it. Talking about the possibilities, Dr Jonathan Kipnis, professor in the UVA Department of Neuroscience and director of UVA's Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, used Alzheimer's as a particular example.
"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 also suggested that the vessels may have a role to play in the ageing process, as the vessels themselves look different with age.
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