The nervous system is known to interact with the immune system and regulate inflammation in the body. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have shown how electrical activation of a particular nerve can promote healing in acute inflammation. This discovery, published in the journal PNAS, opens up new avenues to speed up the resolution of inflammation.
How the body regulates inflammation is only partially understood. Previous research by Peder Olofsson’s group at the Karolinska Institute and other research groups has shown that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve can reduce inflammation. Such nerve stimulation has been used with encouraging results in clinical trials in patients with inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. However, how neural signals regulate the active resolution of inflammation has not been clear.
“Now we have studied the effects of signals between nerves and immune cells at the molecular level,” says April S. Caravaca, a researcher in Peder Olofsson’s group at the Faculty of Medicine at Solna, Karolinska Institutet and the Stockholm Center for Bioelectronic Medicine at MedTechLabs. “Better understanding of these mechanisms will enable more precise applications that use the nervous system to regulate inflammation.”
Researchers have shown that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve in inflammation shifts the balance between inflammatory and specialized anti-inflammatory molecules, which promotes healing.
“Inflammation and its resolution plays a key role in a wide range of common diseases, including autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases,” says Peder Olofsson. “Our results provide insight into how the nervous system can accelerate the resolution of inflammation by activating certain signaling pathways.”
Researchers will continue to study in more detail how nerves regulate the healing process of inflammation.
“The vagus nerve is just one of many nerves that regulate the immune system. We will continue to map the networks of nerves that regulate inflammation at the molecular level and study how these signals are involved in the development of diseases,” says Dr. Olofsson. “We hope that these studies will provide a better understanding of how pathological inflammation is resolved and lead to more effective treatment of many inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis and rheumatism.”