Among the first to break the news, Brainfactor reported on June 4 the “stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching”: researchers at the University of Virginia (U.Va.) School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.
Here is the interview with Antoine Louveau, Ph.D., who discovered the new structure when examining mouse tissue. Dr. Loveau is a postdoctoral fellow in the Kipnis lab, working on two different projects: first project concerns meningeal T cells that have been shown to have pro-cognitive function; second project is the study of the RNA binding molecule FMRP in the peripheral and brain-resident immune cells. His discovery can change the way we approach the human brain and its diseases.
The impossible exists… How did you react to your discovery?
The first time we saw those vessels we shared both excitement and suspicious feeling, we though that someones had to have seen those vessels before, that something like that couldn’t have been ignored before.
How do you explain the fact that no one had ever seen these vessels in the brain before?
If you look in some old literature, they are a couple of hint that lymphatic vessels might be present in the CNS but we think that the development of a new technique to isolate the mouse meninges as one piece that can easily be imaged, combined with the relative recent discovery of lymphatic markers enabled us to see those vessels.
How this discovery will change neuroscience?
This discovery will force to consider the immunology of the brain differently, now, like every organ of the body, the central nervous system possess a lymphatic network, but the brain remains immunologically unique, we therefore need to look at that in a different way and have to reassess some of the dogmas that we accepted so far.
Scientific research is putting more and more light on the role of the immune system in the development of many diseases. A more direct connection with the brain seems to confirm the validity of therapies which build on the ability of the human brain to take action on health conditions. I’m thinking hypnosis in particular…
The jump between the discovery of the lymphatic system into the potential effect of hypnosis wouldn’t be something I’d feel confortable saying. What is sure is that the impact of the immune system in numerous neurological diseases is emerging and that those vessels can give new idea on how the two systems are interacting and give us new hypothesis for the etiology of some neurological diseases and also in a far future potential therapeutic targets.
Do you think we can make further breakthroughs in the brain?
The brain is, in my opinion, the organ for which we’ll always have more questions than we will have answer, so definitely yes, there will always be breakthroughs in the brain.
What will be your next research?
The next steps for our research is multiple. First, we are actively working on finding if a similar system is present in human. Second, we are studying the function of those vessels in neurological diseases starting with MS, Alzheimer and meningitis.