Washington D.C. [USA], Sep 24 : A team of researchers has suggested a new treatment to prevent and reduce the incidence of infections in the patients with spinal cord injuries without the use of antibiotics.
The findings indicated that spinal cord injury causes the immune system to become "paralysed" and thus, less able to fight off infections such as pneumonia.
Spinal cord is the major column of nerve tissue that is connected to the brain and lies within the vertebral canal and from which the spinal nerves emerge.
Pneumonia is the main cause of death in patients both after acute and chronic spinal cord injuries.
Decreasing disability infections has a strong impact on the lives of people with spinal cord injury.
Principal investigator Dr Jan M. Schwab from Ohio State University in Columbus, U.S. said that despite its clinical relevance, the underlying mechanisms of how spinal cord injury causes a systemic immune shut down are far from being understood.
"Based on our findings, we hypothesise that therapeutic normalisation of the glucocorticoid and catecholamine imbalance in spinal cord injury patients could be a promising treatment strategy," Schwab explained.
They suggested that by disrupting nerve fibres to the adrenal glands by high-level but not low-level thoracic spinal cord transection resulted in almost complete suppression of circulating norepinephrine levels and profound stimulation of systemic corticosterone levels.
After eight years of work, the researchers were able to identify an entirely new mechanism for how spinal cord injury weakens the immune system.
The team demonstrated that susceptibility to spontaneous pneumonia and severe lymphopenia after spinal cord injury resulted from a maladaptive sympathetic-neuroendocrine reflex involving the adrenal glands.
Lymphopenia is an abnormally low level of lymphocytes or white blood cells that manage microbial host defense in the immune system.
This could lead to new treatments to prevent or reduce infections in patients suffering with these injuries without antibiotics, thereby reducing disability and mortality, the researchers stated.
Identical findings were seen in human patients with traumatic complete spinal cord injury, researchers wrote.
The research appears in online in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
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