Keyur P. Biology...Science Rasmussen's Encephalitis The human immune system is an amazing system that is constantly on the alert protecting us from sicknesses. Thousands of white blood cells travel in our circulatory system destroying all foreign substances that could cause harm to our body or to any of the millions of processes going on inside. Now imagine a condition where this awesome system turns against the most complex organ in the human body, the brain. Deadly as it is, this condition is known as Rasmussen's encephalitis. The meaningful research on Rasmussen's encephalitis was begun (unintentionally) by Scott Rogers and Lorise Gahring, two neurologists, who were at the time measuring the distribution of glutamate receptors in the brain. Later on when more provocative information was found they enlisted the help of James McNamara and Ian Andrews, epilepsy experts at Duke University Medical Center. The details on Rasmussen's encephalitis were very bleak at the time when the men began their research. All that was known is that Rasmussen's encephalitis was a degenerative disease of the brain that caused seizures, hemiparesis, and dementia normally in the first ten years of life. The seizures that were caused by Rasmussen's encephalitis were unstoppable by normal anti-seizure drugs used conventionally. What the worst part of the disease was that the pathogenesis for it were not known and even worse was how it developed. The first clue was delivered when Rogers and Gahring were trying to register the distribution of the glutamate receptors using antibodies, that tag on to the receptor itself. The proteins that make up the glutamate receptors(GluR) are only found inside the blood brain barrier(BBB). Glutamate and a few related amino acids are the dominant form of excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system of mammals. If one of these GluRs happens to wander into the actual bloodstream, that is outside the BBB, it would be considered an outsider and destroyed immediately. So if these GluRs were put into the normal blood stream then the immune system would produce antibodies which could then be used in the searching for the glutamate receptors. In order to test this theory the researchers injected the GluRs into the blood stream of a normal healthy rabbit hoping to produce good results. At this point the experiment took a dramatic turn, after receiving a few doses of the protein two of the three rabbits began to twitch, as though they were suffering the pain of an epileptic seizure. Now the help of McNamara and Andrews was enlisted. When McNamara and Andrews examined the brain tissue of the rabbits, they saw what seemed to be a familiar inflammatory pattern, clumps of immune cells all around blood vessels. This description exactly matched the description of persons suffering from Rasmussen's encephalitis, moreover something as this would never be found in a healthy brain. A healthy brain has its blood capillaries enclosed in the BBB membrane, so such a case as the one mentioned above would not be possible. As protective as the BBB is, it can be breached by something like a head injury. What was happening was that the antibodies which were out to get the GluR proteins were somehow finding a way into the brain and directing an attack towards all GluR receptor proteins in the brain itself. After some more examinations Rogers and McNamara decided that these attacks were the cause of the seizures that are often experienced by sufferers of Ramussen's encephalitis. Then if the case is of antibodies in the bloodstream, than sufferers of Ramussen's encephalitis should have them in their bloodstream and healthy normal peoples shouldn't. When this was actually tested the results were positive that Rasmussen sufferers did have these antibodies in their bloodstreams and healthy people did not. These were not only the right kind of antibodies but, the very antibodies that caused the seizures in people and rabbits. Thus when these antibodies were removed by plasma exchange(PEX) it caused a temporary relief from the seizures but soon the body starts making more antibodies of the type and the seizures start once again. After all the examinations two questions remained, why does the body mount an immune response against one of its own brain proteins, and how do these antibodies get through the BBB? What