When a person suffers a serious spinal cord injury, his first concern is often times whether the injury will permanently affect his ability to walk, move his arms and perform normal, everyday tasks. Most people do not realize, however, that the loss of mobility and function is only one aspect of a spinal cord injury. Indeed, many people who suffer spinal cord injuries find that their immune systems have been compromised, which in turn can lead to serious, even life-threatening illnesses and infections. This condition is referred to as “central immune suppression syndrome.” According to one recent study, scientists may have discovered why spinal cord injuries cause immune system problems.
Researchers at Ohio State University recently examined immune system problems in mice with spinal cord injuries. According to their study, which was recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, a disorder called autonomic dysreflexia is the cause of central immune suppression syndrome in those who have suffered spinal cord injuries.
The study found that autonomic dysreflexia occurred spontaneously in mice that had suffered spinal cord injuries. This means that there has been some sort of damage in regions of the spinal cord that help control immune response, which causes the whole system to malfunction. Researchers also discovered that other bodily functions controlled by the autonomic nervous system, such as bowl and bladder control, contributed to the incidence of immune suppression in mice with spinal cord injuries.
Researchers were unable to prevent autonomic dysreflexia in their test subjects, but they were, however, able to restore their immune systems. The restoration of immune function was achieved by administering drugs that control hormones released as autonomic dysreflexia progresses. Controlling these hormones allowed the mice’s immune systems to function normally.
Although it is sometimes difficult to know whether findings in mice or other animals are likely to apply to humans, this does not appear to be the case here. After observing autonomic dysreflexia in mice with spinal cord injuries, researchers were able to observe the same phenomenon in human spinal cord injury patients.
Of course, treating immune system suppression in spinal cord injury patients would be easier if doctors were able to prevent the onset of autonomic dysreflexia in the first place. Even though these sorts of treatments are currently unavailable, researchers are optimistic that their findings will help doctors prevent illness and infection among patients with spinal cord injuries in the short term.