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Scientists discover a direct route from the brain to the immune system
Date:10/24/2007

. More than two decades ago, he was treating a young girl whose body had been accidentally scorched by boiling water and she was fighting for her life to overcome sepsis. She didnt make it. Dr. Tracey headed into the laboratory to figure out why the body makes its own cells that can do fatal damage. Dr. Tracey discovered that the vagus nerve speaks directly to the immune system through a neurochemical called acetylcholine. And stimulating the vagus nerve sent commands to the immune system to stop pumping out toxic inflammatory markers. This was so surprising to us, said Dr. Tracey, who immediately saw the potential to use vagus stimulation as a way to shut off abnormal immune system responses. He calls this network the inflammatory reflex.

Research is now underway to see whether tweaking the brain's acetylcholine system could be a natural way to control the inflammatory response. Inflammation is key to many diseases - from autoimmune conditions like Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer's, where scientists have identified a strong inflammatory component.

Dr. Tracey has presented his work to the Dalai Lama, who has shown a great interest in the neurosciences and the mind-body connection. He has also written a book called Fatal Sequence, about the double-edge sword of the immune system.


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Contact: Jamie Talan
jtalan@nshs.edu
516-562-1232
North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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