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Immune System Antibodies May Worsen Spinal Cord Injuries

A new study conduced by researchers at Ohio State University found that antibodies that collect in the spinal fluid after a spinal cord injury may actually worsen the spinal cord damage. When antibodies attach to the damaged spinal cord, other immune system cells attack the nerve cells as if they are foreign invaders in the body.

“Our findings suggest that inhibiting or depleting B lymphocytes, the cells that produce antibodies, may promote healing and reduce the long-term effects of spinal cord injury,” said study leader Phillip Popovich, professor of neuroscience and of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics and director of the Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair.

“They may also help explain why the central nervous system does not repair itself efficiently and why other impairments often follow spinal cord injury.”

Earlier research by Popovich showed that spinal cord injuries active B cells as part of a general immune response, and these cells accumulate around the site of the injury and start producing antibodies.

The current study, which was performed on mice, was published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The mice received moderately severe spinal cord injuries after being anesthetized. One group of mice had a normal immune system, while a second group lacked B cells and therefore did not produce antibodies.

Researchers compared the two groups of mice nine weeks after the injuries. They found that the area of spinal cord damage in mice without antibodies was 30 percent smaller on average. In mice with antibodies, the antibodies had attached to damaged areas of the spinal cord, causing further inflammation and injury.

To see if the antibodies could cause spinal cord injury on their own, the researchers took antibodies from the blood of an injured mouse and injected them into the spinal cord of an uninjured mouse. Within two days, the uninjured mouse’s hind leg became paralyzed.

“This was one of the more striking, remarkable aspects of the study – the fact that the antibodies alone from an injured animal can activate an immune response that damages tissue in an uninjured animal,” said lead author Daniel P. Ankeny, a research scientist in molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics. “These experiments essentially prove that the antibodies have the potential by themselves to make spinal lesions worse.”

The researchers think that the antibodies produced after a spinal cord injury could damage other tissue, and the immune response could be implicated in other problems associated with spine injuries such as chronic bladder problems. The antibodies could be damaging the kidneys as well as sexual organs.

In the future, spinal cord injury victims may receive a pharmaceutical agent that deactivates B cells and eliminates the antibodies. Extinguishing this immune system response could greatly diminish the extent of spinal cord injuries.

Spinal cord injuries are common among car wreck victims, and they are often permanent and life-altering. If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury and believe that someone else is at fault, contact Atlanta, Georgia personal injury lawyer Michael Lawson Neff. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation and learn about your legal rights.