What is Neuroimmunology?

Neuroimmunology is the study of neurological conditions caused by the immune system becoming mis-programmed and attacking itself rather than protecting the body from foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria.

The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system. The brain is like a computer that controls all our body’s functions. The spinal cord is like a computer network relaying messages to and from the brain from all areas of our body. The brain and spinal cord are made of both grey matter (network) and white matter (brain cells).

Branching off from the spinal cord are various nerves, which branch into smaller nerves further away from the spinal cord. These nerves make up the peripheral nervous system. The nerves in the body and central nervous system – that is, the brain and spine - are covered by a fatty protective sheath known as myelin. This myelin allows the electrical impulses to be transmitted quickly and easily from the brain down the spinal cord to give signals to the muscles.

The immune system defends our bodies from attack by invading organisms such as bacteria and viruses. There are many different functioning parts of the immune system, spread through the body.

The lymphatic system is made up of tissues, organs and vessels. The main areas of lymph tissues are the tonsils and adenoids. Lymphatic organs include the spleen and bone marrow. The spleen is an organ in the abdomen that destroys unwanted or damaged blood cells. Bone marrow is like a factory where blood cells are made.

These tissues and organs are joined up by a network of vessels called lymphatic vessels. The lymph fluid that flows through these vessels pick up germs from the blood and transport them to the lymph nodes where they are destroyed.

Immune cells are produced in various parts of the immune system, including the bone marrow, spleen and thymus gland. There are different types of immune cell:

Leucocytes are white blood cells that seek and destroy germs. They are stored in the lymph nodes and can travel around the body in the lymph vessels and blood vessels.

There are two types of leucocytes: phagocytes and lymphocytes. Phagocytes ‘eat’ invading organisms. There are various types of phagocytes, but neutrophils are the most common ones.

Lymphocytes remember previous invaders so that the immune system and recognise and destroy them next time they attack. There are two types of lymphocytes, B cells from the bone marrow and T cells from the thymus. B cells seek out invaders and send T cells to kill them.