Fundamental immune mechanisms of the brain and inner ear

J P Harris, A F Ryan
Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery 1995, 112 (6): 639-53
Because of the blood-brain and blood-labyrinthine barriers, the brain and inner ear were once thought to be immunoprivileged sites. Although these barriers provide protection from inflammatory damage to the delicate structures of the organs, both sites have since been shown to be capable of active immune responses when appropriately stimulated. In the inner ear, perisacular tissue around the endolymphatic sac hosts resident lymphocytes and serves as a site of immunosurveillance. Lymphocytes also enter the inner ear from the circulation, and in the cochlea this occurs via the spiral modiolar vein. Immune responses can protect the labyrinth from infection, but they can also cause bystander injury. Moreover, the cochlea can itself become the target of immune responses that damage hearing. Such autoimmune sensorineural hearing loss can be site specific, with the primary manifestation of the disorder being hearing loss and dysequilibrium. Some of these cases can be diagnosed by antibody or lymphocyte responses to inner ear antigens. Alternately, systemic autoimmune disorders can result in inner ear dysfunction as part of a broader spectrum of disease. Both forms of immune-mediated inner ear dysfunction may respond to immunosuppressive therapies, including steroids, cytotoxic agents, and plasmapheresis.

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