Until now, it was believed that antibodies were proteins created by the immune system to solely protect the body against viruses and bacteria. However, a new study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine may give insight into another function of these vital proteins – nerve repair.
In a study conducted on mice, the scientists at Stanford demonstrated that antibodies are able to repair nerve damage to the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS contains all of the nervous tissue outside of the brain and spinal cord.
It has been largely unknown why nerve tissue in the PNS is able to regenerate whereas the tissue in the brain and spinal cord cannot. Perhaps antibodies provide an answer. While antibodies have access to the peripheral nervous tissue, the blood brain barrier, as well as the blood spinal barrier, does not allow antibodies to pass into these structures.
The process by which the antibodies are able to repair peripheral nervous tissue is believed to be attributed to their ability to degenerate myelin. Myelin, the fatty tissue covering the axons of neurons, remains after neuronal death in the brain and spinal cord. However, in the remainder of the nervous system, the myelin is broken down by antibodies after damage to a particular neuron. In the laboratory, researchers created mice that can’t make antibodies, and as a result, repair to peripheral nervous tissue was impeded, as was the removal of the myelin. After injecting these mice with healthy antibodies, the myelin was removed and the nervous tissue was repaired.
It is scientists’ hope that this finding will lead to a way to repair central nervous system tissue damage caused by strokes and spinal cord injury. One researcher claims, “‘One idea,” said Barres, “would be to bypass the blood-brain barrier by delivering anti-degenerating-myelin proteins directly into the spinal fluid. We’re hoping that these antibodies might then coat the myelin, signaling to microglia — macrophages’ counterparts in the central nervous system — to clear the degenerating myelin.” That might, in turn, jump-start the regeneration of damaged nervous tissue, he added.”
For the full article, click here.
While watching the World Cup games, I can’t help but to ask myself, “can the accumulation of damage of heading the ball induce a concussion?” The answer to this question will remain a mystery until it is empirically tested. What we do know is that sport-related concussions (SRC), common in all sports, are in fact very serious injuries that should be properly assessed in order to prevent the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain disease resulting from multiple concussive events.
Before I proceed, I must clarify that athletes can suffer a concussion without experiencing loss of consciousness or amnesia, and that it does not necessarily have to be a direct blow to the head in order to induce a concussion. These very important, but overlooked, pieces of information can lead to an increase in the identification of concussions, a positive and giant step towards preventing CTE.
As discussed in a recent New York Times article, Chris Henry, the former Cincinnati Bengals wide-receiver, was the 22nd professional football player to be diagnosed with CTE after his death at the age of 26. It is unknown how many athletes, of all ages, are suffering from, or are currently at risk of developing CTE. Although Henry did not die as a direct result from CTE, he exhibited behavioral problems including depression, substance abuse, and poor-decision making abilities. All three behavioral problems could be key identifiers when diagnosing a patient with CTE. Although CTE can only be identified after the athlete has passed away, simple neuropsychological tests, involving memory and visuomotor tasks, have been excellent tools when assessing SRCs, showing promise in the current research field.
Currently, physicians and researchers are struggling to put the SRC-CTE puzzle together because of the many confounding variables, such as overlapping symptoms including headaches and dizziness, involved in this alarmingly underreported brain injury. To find out more information about this topic, stay tuned for the upcoming article in The Nerve about SRCs and CTE, written by John Batoha and myself.
See the NYT article here.