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Who Knew? Turns Out the Spleen Is Connected to the Brain

DiscoblogBy Boonsri DickinsonJuly 24, 2008 7:39 PM


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It turns out that the spleen is a more useful organ than we thought. For a good part of the last 100 years, experts have assumed that the spleen was merely a piece of tissue above our abdomen, there to filter and store blood. In recent years, scientists have recognized the spleen’s role in manufacturing immune cells to fight off infection. The latest news (providing further evidence that the spleen is far from useless) tells us that the spleen actually connects the nervous system to the immune system. Mauricio Rosas-Ballina at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Researchsays that the results of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that there may be two separate ways the brain communicates with the spleen to regulate immune functioning. “It may be more effective to take advantage of the central nervous system to control cells of the spleen,” she says. A better understanding of the spleen’s functioning may lead to better treatments for infections by changing antibody production through the spleen, as well as some autoimmune disorders. So don’t “vent your spleen” if an emergency causes you to need your spleen removed. Take the advice of a 1912 New York Times story, which reported that scientists didn’t know exactly what the spleen does, “except that apparently we can do without it.”

Photo: flicker/ Ward Jenkins

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