You know the phrase “use it or lose it”? Yeah, that’s something the body apparently takes deadly, deadly seriously, because your immune system is currently munching on your idle neurons right now.
The cells in question are microglia, special immune cells that were thought, until recently, to just be the brain’s janitors, sweeping up viruses and other crud.
Scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital bred mice to prefer one eye to the other for vision, and when they cracked open the mice after death, they found that synapses and neurons for the less favored eye were far less.
At root seems to be a chemical called C3; microglia use it to mark synapses for destruction. So why should we care?
Two reasons: one, it could lead to a revolution in brain surgery, and two, it may just be the trigger for degenerative neurological diseases. Even if it isn’t, it’s a huge insight into how the brain works, and how we can use our immune systems to bolster it.
image courtesy jepoirrier on Flickr