The Ohio State Medical Center (OSMC) recently published a study online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The study explored the effects of the body’s immune response after a spinal cord injury. It was already widely known that immune cells gather and release large amounts of antibodies in spinal fluid around a fresh injury site. Up until the OSMC study was published, no one knew exactly how those antibodies affected the injury. The study revealed that antibodies can actually damage and worsen the spinal cord injury by confusing the immune system into attacking the cells near the injury site as a response.
The study leader, Phillip G. Popovich, discerned a possible solution to the problem they identified. By inhibiting certain antibody-producing cells, the scientists asserted, a spinal cord injury patient might benefit from faster healing and reduced risk of more severe long-term damage. Popovich said, ‘ may also help explain why the central nervous system does not repair itself efficiently and why other impairments often follow spinal cord injury.’
The study was conducted using anaesthetized mice that had been given moderate spinal injuries. Half of the mice had normal immune systems and the other half had immune systems that did not produce antibodies. The group with the inhibited immune systems showed about 30% smaller areas of injury than the mice with normal functioning immune systems.
To determine whether or not it the accumulation of antibodies around the spinal cord injury site was to blame for the larger and more severe injuries, the researchers injected antibodies from injured mice into the spinal cords of healthy mice. They became partially paralyzed and showed signs of damage to their spinal cords only 48 hours after the injections.
Another researcher in the study, Daniel P. Ankeny, said, ‘These experiments essentially prove that the antibodies have the potential by themselves to make spinal lesions worse.’ The researchers also suggested that other health issues that arise in concert with spinal cord injuries might be related to and even caused by the heightened presence of antibodies in the bloodstream. Further research may reveal a host of problems associated with the antibodies in the system.
Better treatments designed to slow down the body’s immune response to spinal cord injuries may result from the findings of this study and further research to determine whether or not the results translate into human patients.
(pic from flickr.com/photos/tudor)