Scientists Discover A New Part Of The Human Body

By Jordan Rosenfeld | Mental Floss

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When you woke up this morning, you did so with an entirely new body part—at least in the eyes of science. You can’t see it or touch it, but it will play a crucial role in understanding neurological diseases and immunity.

Researchers at University of Virginia’s School of Medicine recently discovered a long-hidden system of vessels they've coined the “central nervous system lymphatic vessels,” which drain lymphatic fluid from the brain to the surrounding lymph nodes.


The discovery, published in Nature, has shaken up the scientific community. The study was headed by Antoine Louveau, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of UVA’s Jonathan Kipnis, director of the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. The team detected the vessels after Louveau developed a method for mounting a mouse’s meninges (membranes covering the brain) on a slide without ruining the delicate tissue. When he saw vessel-like patterns in the distribution of immune cells, he tested for lymphatic vessels—and the results surprised everyone. They were also able to find the vessels in human brain samples.

Explore Hacking Into Healing: The Real Future Of Medicine and learn how the brain, immune, and hormonal systems are interconnected, having a major influence on the human body.

This find is the neuroimmunological version of stumbling across a unicorn. Not only had the system gone undiscovered until now, but textbooks argued against its very existence. As a result, neuroimmunologists have struggled to understand the mechanisms of brain drainage and inflammation.

Find out why the cure for degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson's and ALS may be in your ‘gut'. 

When all other tissues in the body become inflamed, molecules or pathogens are drained into the local lymph cells, where immune cells get activated to continue the fight. “In the brain, we thought this system didn’t exist. When we first saw those vessels, I completely freaked out,” Kipnis tells mental_floss. “This discovery is as exciting as it gets.”

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