Researchers at VIB and Ghent University have discovered an important mechanism of sepsis, an overreaction of the body’s immune system to an infection. In this condition, the brain is sometimes unable to curb an inflammatory response, causing organ failure or “septic shock.” This scenario is the most frequent cause of death in intensive care units. As it turns out, information about infections is passed to our brain via extracellular vesicles (ECVs), small particles in brain fluid. These insights were published online on September 5, 2016 in EMBO Molecular Medicine and might give rise to new strategies to treat sepsis and even other inflammatory conditions. The open-access article is titled “Identification of a Novel Mechanism of Blood–Brain Communication During Peripheral Inflammation Via Choroid Plexus-Derived Extracellular Vesicles.” In sepsis, acute inflammation is associated with low blood pressure and the formation of blood clots, causing the organs to stop working. While the root cause is an infection, similar inflammatory responses can occur in the case of physical harm, such as severe burns or injuries caused by traffic accidents. All these conditions are classified under the generic term SIRS (Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome). While doctors can sometimes treat the underlying infection with antibiotics or provide artificial support for vital functions, no real treatment for SIRS or sepsis has been developed so far. The VIB-Ghent University research project, led by Professor Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke, explored an under-represented research field: the biological function of ECVs. It was long believed that these small structures in biological fluids were released from cells to rid them of cellular waste.
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