Findings published in Cell, reveal that, to ensure its survival, the germ hijacks neurons and exploits the normal communication that occurs between the nervous and immune systems during injury or infection.
The study also suggests two distinct approaches involving nerve modulation to avert disease and treat these infections in mice. If replicated successfully in larger animals and in humans, these treatments could be used to block the germ’s dangerous moves, prevent widespread infections and halt disease progression.
When the body is injured, the nervous system springs into action. Nerve cells send two separate memos. One of them goes to the brain, telling it that something is wrong, triggering the sensation of pain. The other goes to the immune system, telling it to keep away. This “stay away” signal plays an important protective role. In the setting of tissue injury or trauma, an overactive immune system can inflict serious collateral damage on healthy tissue when it deploys an army of disease-fighting cells. To prevent this sort of immune mayhem, neurons can send a chemical missive telling the immune system to keep its attack dogs in check.