Toronto: The nervous system may play a bigger role in infections and auto-immune diseases than previously known, says a study.
Learning more about that role could lead to early diagnosis and treatment of people affected by pandemics or outbreaks of contagious or deadly diseases, such as flu or Ebola, the study added.
The researchers noted that neurons of the peripheral nervous system - specialised nerve cells that transmit information throughout the body - are known to send information about local infections or inflammation to the central nervous system (CNS - the brain and spinal cord) so the CNS can co-ordinate the whole body response.
"The neurons may be sending the CNS not just a general 'danger warning' but specific information about whether the infection is caused by a virus or bacteria, the type of bacteria present or the nature of the auto-immune reaction," said Benjamin Steinberg from St. Michael's Hospital in Canada.
"The blue sky idea is that if we know the language and can read the code, in theory we can engineer or write our own," Steinberg said.
Since those messages are being sent from neurons to the CNS in real time, knowing what they are saying could speed diagnoses or prognostication of everything from the stomach flu to rheumatoid arthritis.
The current method for confirming infections is to test body fluids or tissues, sometimes using invasive techniques, a process that can take hours, days or even longer.
"Timely diagnosis and intervention are essential to minimize deaths and complications," Steinberg stressed.
The study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.