Stunning: Scientists Discover the Missing Link — Lymphatic Vessels — Connecting Brain and Immune System

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Until date, no one could find a connection between the brain and the immune system because no one could find any lymphatic vessels in the brain. For centuries, scientists and medical practitioners were convinced that the brain (part of the central nervous system) was kept safe from pathogens, since it lacked a direct connection to the lymphatic system (which performs important immune functions).

However, a team of researchers at the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine have done the unthinkable: they have discovered a new series of lymphatic vessels in the body that connect the brain to the immune system.

The lymphatic vessels carry immune cells, including the white blood cells, and rid the human body of dead blood cells, toxins and waste. These vessels may have gone undetected until now since they were hiding in the meninges (the layer of tissue that covers the brain) – the membrane that is frequently discarded when the brain is prepared for analysis.

Dr Jonathan Kipnis, lead researcher and director of University of Virginia’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, commented:

“I really did not believe there are structures in the body that we are not aware of. I thought the body was mapped. I thought that these discoveries ended somewhere around the middle of the last century. But apparently they have not.”

lymphatic vessels
Maps of the lymphatic system: old (left) and updated to reflect University of Virginia’s discovery (right). | Credit: University of Virginia Health System.

The discovery of the central nervous system lymphatic system not only challenges the basic assumptions in neuroimmunology, it has the potential to revolutionize future treatment of patients suffering from neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases associated with immune system dysfunction such as autism, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Dr Kipnis added:

“Instead of asking: ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?’ now we can approach this mechanistically. Because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels. It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuroimmune interaction.

“We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions. We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role. It’s hard to imagine that these vessels would not be involved in a neurological disease with an immune component.

“For example, take Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s, there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain. We think they may be accumulating in the brain because they’re not being efficiently removed by these vessels.” “

The discovery was made possible by Dr Antoine Louveau, a researcher in Dr Kipnis’ lab. The lymphatic vessels were detected after Dr Louveau mounted a mouse’s meninges on a single slide — rather than slicing them up, which is how they’re normally studied — in order to study the mouse’s brain as a whole, under high-powered microscopes.

A microscopic examination revealed immune cells spread across the meninges in vessel-like patterns; further testing confirmed them to be lymphatic vessels. Later, the team was able to show how the lymphatic vessels carry immune cells from the cerebrospinal fluid, along veins in the sinuses, and into nearby deep cervical lymph nodes — a direct connection between the brain and the immune system.

While the discovery of the new lymphatic vessels leads to more questions than answers, Kevin Lee, the chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Virginia (who wasn’t involved in the research) is buoyant. Recalling the first time Dr Kipnis showed him their results, Lee remarked:

“I just said one sentence: ‘They’ll have to rewrite the textbooks’. 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.”

An estimated 8% of the U.S. population suffers from one of the 80 to 100 currently recognized autoimmune disorders.  With more than 5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s and over 3.5 million living with an autism spectrum disorder, this new discovery could be a game changer.

Your views matter. Please share your thoughts on this stunning discovery in the comments section below.


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14 COMMENTS

  1. preserve nature do not protect and evitate at all times duality of good and bad… there is no bad and evil in nature universe and existence

  2. The fact that the brains immune system triggers frontotemporal dementia would certainly explain why so many people in my family with hereditary behavioral variant frontototemporal dementia keep ending up in rehab for their “abuse” of immune modifying cannabis again and again before finally being diagnosed. Maybe we should screen folks with “marijuana dependency” to see what is really wrong with them?

  3. Well, to me scientists are dumb if they think the brain ends in the head, it is the WHOLE neurosytem… it’s a whole body brain and it all connects, not via lymph but by the neural system itself… twats.

  4. In may 2014, my then 5 y/o son was dx w a brain tumor found to be medulloblastoma, located in the 4th ventricle. He is now in remission and has Ben doing very well. He will begin growth hormone replacement injections soon as the 68 weeks of radiation and chemo tx’s damaged his pituitary gland, thyroid gland and possibly the adrenal glands. Now I know that this CA, or likely any brain CA, has never been even studied from any angle as linked with autoimmune dysfunction because scientists have only Neely discovered the lymphatic connection of the CNS with the rest of the brain. My question for the scientists who discovered this awesome new lymph system is…. Does this neuroanatomy of the CNS and the CSF mean that the CA’s previously thought to be for the most part safly contained within the spinal column and safe from metastasizing outside the enclosed system, now have the potential to spread to the PNS or any outside tissues and organs????? Hopefully I have posed this question correctly and my concern is apparent because I’m very afraid of the potential of different CA’s showing up in other systems and structures within his body…. Especially since he had to be exposed to such high doses of radiation…. 7 weeks of total brain and spine with half of the tx’s directly to the two spots where the evil tumor had attached on the brain stem and the other half to the whole crainialspinal system. I would love for a neuroscientist to respond but any experienced medical professional will be insightful. This is a incredible breakthrough discovery for the human race and opens so many doors to finally unlocking the understanding of the human brain and body as well as the human psyche!!! Biggest breakthrough in medical scientific discoveries (it’ll be like the cavemen finally discovering fire or inventing the wheel!!!!) which will likely be a turning point to finally discovering and realizing how to unlock the brains full potential! Kinda scary too considering how todays societies emotionally operate and how if not checked can lead abuse of knowledge and power! Thanks so much for all the hard work these scientists do to further our race!

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