Scientists Reveal Immune Function Can be Restored in Spinal Injured Mice

First Posted: Aug 08, 2013 08:09 AM EDT

Spinal cord injuries can be devastating for patients. Not only can they affect mobility, but they can also compromise the immune system, making people more susceptible to diseases. Now, scientists have discovered that it's possible to restore immune function in spinal injured mice, which could pave the way for future research.

Why people with spinal cord injury become immune compromised is unknown, but previous research has found that a disorder called autonomic dysreflexia (AD) can cause immune suppression. This potentially dangerous complication of high-level spinal cord injury is characterized by exaggerated activation of spinal autonomic reflexes. This, in turn, can cause an abrupt onset of excessively high blood pressure that can cause pulmonary embolism, stroke and even death.

In order to examine this condition a bit more closely, the scientists looked at its development in mice. They found that autonomic dysreflexia develops spontaneously in spinal cord injured mice and becomes more frequent as time passes. They also discovered that everyday occurrences that activate normal spinal autonomic reflexes become hyperactive and suppress immune function.

So how did they restore immune function in the mice? The scientists used drugs that inhibit norepinephrine and glucocorticoids, immune modulatory hormones that are produced during the onset and progression of AD. This finding could be a boon to patients living with the conditions.

"Although we don't know how to fix this yet, we also show that it is possible to restore immune function in spinal injured mice," said Phillip Popovich, one of the researchers, in a news release. "After spinal cord injury, the ability of the spinal cord to control the immune system is impaired. As a result, these individuals become susceptible to infection, and often die from these infections. For those that survive, the infections can impair what little function they have left after the spinal cord injury."

The findings are important for understanding this condition and potentially helping patients suffering with it. The research lays the groundwork for potential therapeutic targets for reversing central immune depression syndrome. However, further studies are needed before scientists come up with anything conclusive.

The new study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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