Immune cell discovery offers hope of reversing neurodegenerative disease
A promising new study, published in the journal Nature Immunology, is describing the discovery of a novel kind of immune cell with the apparent ability to not only prevent the progressive neurological degeneration associated with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and ALS, but which may even regenerate and repair damaged cells.
Neutrophils are a little like the body’s first responders. These immune cells are often the first to arrive at an infected inflamed site. And, in the case of some autoimmune diseases, hyperactive neutrophil activity can exacerbate inflammatory damage.
A team of researchers, from the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, has now discovered a novel sub-type of neutrophil. Using mouse models the researchers revealed this new cell type possesses unique neuroregenerative properties.
"This immune cell subset secretes growth factors that enhance the survival of nerve cells following traumatic injury to the central nervous system,” explains corresponding author, Benjamin Segal. “It stimulates severed nerve fibers to regrow in the central nervous system, which is really unprecedented.”
The immune cell ostensibly resembles an immature neutrophil but with a few impressive, and unexpected, tricks up its sleeve. When administered to mice with damaged spinal cords or optic nerves, the cells essentially prompt new cellular growth promoting nervous system repair.
"We found that this pro-regenerative neutrophil promotes repair in the optic nerve and spinal cord, demonstrating its relevance across CNS (central nervous system) compartments and neuronal populations,” says first author on the study, Andrew Sas.
Looking beyond animal models, the researchers also homed in on a human immune cell line with the same kind of regenerative characteristics, meaning this mechanism could be transferable to human subjects.
“A human cell line with characteristics of immature neutrophils also exhibited neuro-regenerative capacity, suggesting that our observations might be translatable to the clinic," adds Sas.
It’s incredibly early days for the research but the implications of the discovery are profoundly promising. If this novel immune cell line can be harnessed for human clinical use then, hypothetically, it could slow, stop, or even reverse, a huge variety of degenerative neurological and nervous system diseases.
"I treat patients who have permanent neurological deficits, and they have to deal with debilitating symptoms every day,” says Segal. “The possibility of reversing those deficits and improving the quality of life of individuals with neurological disorders is very exciting.”
The new study was published in the journal Nature Immunology.