In a study that may hold promise for restoring immune function in people with spinal cord injuries, researchers at the Ohio State University Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair have restored immune function in mice with spinal cord injuries.

People with SCI are often immune compromised. The study found that autonomic dysreflexia can cause immune suppression. “After spinal cord injury, the ability of the spinal cord to control the immune system is impaired. As a result, these individuals become susceptible to infection, and often die from these infections,” says research investigator Dr. Phillip Popovich.

Autonomic dysreflexia occurs spontaneously in spinal cord injured mice. Researchers restored immune function using drugs that inhibit norepinephrine and glucocorticoids — immune hormones produced during the onset and progression of autonomic dysreflexia.

Dr. Dan Lammertse, medical director of research at Craig Hospital, says this study is significant because it shows a connection between autonomic dysreflexia and chronic immune suppression, a common complication of SCI. He cautions that any potential treatment should weigh the benefit against the risk. He says the study suggests that a human treatment is possible, but well thought-out clinical trials will be needed. The study appears in the August 7 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.