Mouse study finds link between gut disease and brain injury in premature infants – Johns Hopkins Medicine

Photomicrographs demonstrating the impact of T lymphocytes (T cells) associated with the intestinal disease necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) on myelin — a fatty material that surrounds and protects nerve cells — in laboratory-grown mouse brain organoids (“mini-brains”) that model the brain of a premature human infant. The left image shows brain organoids from healthy mice with numerous myelin connections between the neurons (bright areas). The right image shows brain organoids exposed to T cells from mice with NEC displaying a distinct reduction in the number of myelin fibers connecting neurons. Credit: C. Zhou, C. Sodhi and D. J. Hackam, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Physicians have long known that necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially lethal inflammatory condition that destroys a premature infant’s intestinal lining, is often connected to the development of severe brain injury in those infants who survive. However, the means by which the diseased intestine “communicates” its devastation to the newborn brain has remained largely unknown.

Now, working with mice, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland have identified that missing link — an immune system cell that they say travels from the gut to the brain and attacks cells rather than protect them as it normally does.

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