A new discovery: researcher finds immune system structures in the brain

Hypnotists and other observant people have known for some time that our immune systems are affected by what’s going on in our minds. Now, for the first time, scientists at the University of Virginia have found a possible mechanism for that connection.

A researcher looking for a way to study the meninges, the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, stumbled across immune system cells and followed their trail to the lymphatic vessels themselves, hidden by difficult geography—they were next to a major blood vessel, in the sinuses, an area that is difficult to image.

What makes this discovery exciting is that the existence of these vessels offers a new way to think about—and potentially treat—autoimmune diseases, and other neurological diseases.

The lab’s director, Jonathan Kipnis, used the example of 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.” He also mentioned another aspect that may be significant: the role they play in aging.

Amazing isn’t it? I look forward to each bit of research, each development in imaging technology, so that as we learn more about the brain and the brain-body connections, we will also learn more about how hypnosis works. We do live in exciting times.

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