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Monday, October 12, 2015

Single drop of blood in the brain can activate autoimmune response akin to multiple sclerosis

October 12, 2015

A new study from the Gladstone Institutes shows that a single drop of blood in the brain is sufficient to activate an autoimmune response akin to multiple sclerosis (MS). This is the first demonstration that introduction of blood in the healthy brain is sufficient to cause peripheral immune cells to enter the brain, which then go on to cause brain damage.

A break in the blood-brain barrier (BBB) allows blood proteins to leak into the brain and is a key characteristic of MS, a disabling autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord. However, it was unclear whether the BBB disruption caused the autoimmune response or resulted from it.
In the current study, published in Nature Communications, the scientists created a new animal model of disease to determine if BBB leakage can cause autoimmunity. They discovered that injecting just one drop of blood into the brain set off the brain's immune response, kick-starting a chain reaction that resulted in inflammation and myelin damage. Myelin is the protective sheath that insulates nerve fibers in the brain, and it is the primary site of injury in MS. What's more, the scientists were able to pinpoint a specific protein in the blood, the blood-clotting factor fibrinogen, as the trigger for the disease-causing process.

"These findings offer a completely new way of thinking about how the immune system attacks the brain--it puts the blood in the driver's seat of the onset and progression of disease," says senior author Katerina Akassoglou, PhD, a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes and professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. "This opens up the possibility for new types of therapies that target blood coagulation factors, upstream of autoimmune processes."

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