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The link between the lymphatic system and the brain

Unprecedented new research out of the University of Virginia Neuroscience Department has found a direct connection between the lymphatic system and the brain. Until this new study, it was accepted that the lymphatic system had been completely mapped.

Antoine Louveau, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at UVA, found through working with the brain of a mouse an indication that lymphatic cells in the brain were actually connected in a network that followed the path of blood vessels to the dural sinuses. These lymphatic cells are connected to the deep cervical lymph nodes, and carry immune cells from the cerebrospinal fluid. Unless someone were looking for them, it would be difficult to detect these vessels since the network is overshadowed by the blood vessels.

So what does this scientific study mean?

In essence, the discovery of these passageways are like discovering that there’s a bridge connecting the brain – long-thought to be an island – with the rest of the lymphatic system.

Lymphatic fluid, which contains white blood cells (lymphocytes), is a primary means of fighting infection. The fluid picks up microbes and bacteria and shuttles them away from body tissue and to the lymph nodes for disposal. If there is a bridge connecting the brain to this important body system, it means that there are new pathways and mechanisms for researchers to study when it comes to diseases that impact the brain.

If the central nervous system is in fact connected to the lymphatic system, pre-existing basic assumptions in the treatment of diseases that affect the brain (like Alzheimer’s) must be questioned. It has been demonstrated in this study that a network connects the brain directly to the lymphatic system. This could allow for the study of neurological diseases on a mechanistic level.

The abstract is available on Nature, and Neuroscience News has a brief article about this research.

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