Many of the devastations that spinal cord injury can cause are easy to see. The paralysis that results can reduce or eliminate a person's ability to move limbs and other parts of the body. But there are other, lesser known effects of a spinal cord injury, including a compromised immune system.
When the spinal cord is damaged, people can also be more susceptible to disease and illness. Scientists do not know exactly how this happens, but researchers recently announced a discovery that could someday help people manage immune system suppression after a spinal cord injury. They were able to restore immune function in mines with spinal cord injuries.
The research involves a disorder called autonomic dysreflexia (AD), which can cause suppression of the immune system and is a potential complication of high-level spinal cord injuries. It involves the exaggerated activation of sympathetic reflexes that can cause abrupt high blood pressure that can cause pulmonary embolism, stroke or even death.
Scientists found that autonomic dysreflexia developes spontaneously in mice with spinal cord injuries. To successfully restore immune function in mice, researchers introduced drugs that inhibit norepinephrine and glucocorticoids, which are involved in autonomic dysreflexia.
The research does not mean that immune function can be successfully restored in humans. But researchers who are involved in the research say their work is laying groundwork for new ways to reverse the suppression of the immune system after a spinal cord injury. Although more research is needed, it is a step toward better understanding and treatment of patients with spinal cord injuries.
Source: The Ohio State University, "Ohio State Researchers Restore Immune Function In Spinal Injured Mice," Aug. 6, 2013