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  • Kelly Owens

Brainstem neurons are regulators of inflammation

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Led by the remarkable scientist and lovely human, Dr. Sangeeta Chavan, she and her team discovered a small cluster of neurons within the brain stem that is responsible for the production of inflammation in the immune system, traveling by way of the vagus nerve.

While it’s been known that the vagus nerve is the ‘inflammatory reflex’ and that stimulating the nerve inhibits inflammation and cytokine production, it was not yet understood the origin of where the signals that travel down the vagus nerve come from. Dr. Chavan and her team discovered that anti-inflammatory (cholinergic) neurons from the brain stem’s dorsal motor nucleus communicate with the spleen by way of the vagus nerve.

This is wildly significant and a major advancement and milestone in the field of bioelectronic medicine. The more that we understand the functional neuroanatomy of the origins of how our immune system functions as a result of not only nerves, but our brain itself, the better we can create devices and therapeutics that target certain outcomes to prevent, treat, and cure the diseases of today.

The basic principles of this new field boil down to these three questions:

1. What is the mechanism of action that allows the device to work? (In this case, very simply summarized, the inflammatory reflex sending signals to the spleen to turn off the overproduction of inflammatory cytokines)

2. Why does that mechanism work that way? (In this case, the cluster of neurons in the brain stem that communicates with the spleen via traveling down the vagus nerve/inflammatory reflex)

3. How does this benefit patients, and how can we create the best device that allows for maximum patient benefit?

All of those questions matter when it comes to this revolutionary field of bioelectronic medicine, and I am so glad to be part of an organization at the Feinstein Institutes where those principles are practiced daily with the sole purpose of producing knowledge to cure disease.

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