A news release from BioMed Central reports that scientists have pinpointed a strategy to reduce brain damage resulting from head injuries by stopping the body’s immune system from killing brain cells. The results from the research indicated that in experiments on mice, an immune-based treatment reduced the size of brain lesions.

The study appears in the open access journal Acta Neuropathologica Communications.

 According to the study authors, if these findings apply to humans, this could help prevent damage from accidents and protect players engaged in contact sports such as football, rugby, and boxing.

The release notes that the researchers were testing the theory that blows to the head cause brain damage, in part, because of the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, allowing the immune cells in the blood to come into contact with brain cells and destroy them. The researchers go on to hypothesize that mice missing a key immune component would have less brain damage from trauma, and that a treatment which blocks a component of the immune system would prevent damage.

This component was CD74, which the release says plays a vital role in the immune system’s response to disease-causing agents. CD74 is broken into products that fit into the groove of cell surface immune response proteins as part of the chain of events that activates T-cells. A reported theory suggests that these cells might also attack the brain cells if the blood-brain barrier is down. A treatment known as CAP stops the T-cells from being activated, by fitting into the activation site in the proteins and blocking the interaction, meaning that the pathway cannot continue.

The researchers tested the theory using a variety of tests involving a total of 32 mice. The mice were divided into groups that had the different combinations of CD74 deficient mice compared to control mice, a sham brain injury or a real brain injury, and the CAP treatment or a saline injection as a control.

The release states that in order to test the hypothesis that the immune system causes brain damage following a trauma, the scientists compared the lesion size in CD74 deficient mice versus a control strain following a real brain trauma, with the saline injection. The results indicate that the control mice with a fully working immune system had larger lesions, suggesting that the immune system may be a part of the reason for brain cells breaking down post-trauma.

The researchers then went on to test whether the CAP treatment reduced brain damage after trauma by comparing control mice with a real brain injury that were given the CAP treatment against similar mice that were given the saline control. The release says that the mice that received the CAP treatment had smaller brain lesions, indicating that it did reduce the damage caused by brain trauma.  Additionally, the researchers found that these lesions were as small as those in the CD74 deficient mice, further supporting the hypothesis that the treatment was successful because it stops the immune system from attacking the brain.

Source(s): EurekAlert, BioMed Central