Brain-like activity found in human immune system
The researchers were, for the first time, able to confirm that immune cells contained neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which were previously thought to only be present in the brain.
According to lead researcher Ilenia Papa from ANU, the breakthrough could lead to better treatments for autoimmune diseases as well as lymphomas and immunodeficiency disorders.
"These (neurotransmitter) particles were previously thought to only exist in neurons in the brain and we think they are, potentially, an excellent target for therapies to speed up or dampen the body's immune response, depending on the disease you're dealing with," Papa said in a statement on Thursday.
The team took into account more than 200 tissue samples from children who had recently had their tonsils taken out, analyzing the transfer of dopamine from "T cells" to "B cells" through a synaptic interaction.
"Like neurons, specialized T cells transfer dopamine to B cells that provides additional 'motivation' for B cells to produce the best antibodies they can to help to clear up an infection," Papa said.
"The human body has developed an advanced form of protection against bacteria, viruses and other foreign bodies that relies on the immune system.
"Immune responses are essential for recognizing and defending humans against substances that appear foreign and harmful to the individual."
Details of the research were published in Nature journal, a Britain-based weekly publication of scientific research. ■