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Medicine Science

Major New Function Discovered For the Spleen 257

Posted by kdawson
from the more-than-just-a-metaphor dept.
circletimessquare writes "The spleen doesn't get much respect — as one researcher put it, 'the spleen lacks the gravitas of neighboring organs.' Those undergoing a splenectomy seem to be able to carry on without any consequences. However, some studies have suggested an enhanced risk of early death for those who have undergone splenectomies. Now researchers have discovered why: the spleen apparently serves as a vast reservoir for monocytes, the largest of the white blood cells, the wrecking crew of the immune system. After major trauma, such as a heart attack, the monocytes are disgorged into the blood stream and immediately get to work repairing the damage. '"The parallel in military terms is a standing army," said Matthias Nahrendorf, an author of the report. "You don't want to have to recruit an entire fighting force from the ground up every time you need it."'"
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Major New Function Discovered For the Spleen

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  • First Post (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So how long are their deployments?

    -US Army soldier.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:08PM (#28948379) Journal

      You fight disease with the spleen you have. Not the spleen you want.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      This is unacceptable. The founding fathers were wary of standing armies in times of good health, and for good reason. Beware the power of the spleen-industrial complex!
  • by 13bPower (869223) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:59PM (#28947443) Homepage Journal

    How could they miss that? I'm sure someone cut open a spleen before and looked at it through a microscope. Wouldn't you see an unusually high concentration of the monocytes?

    • It's no different than the appendix. Apparently, unless its function is obvious, we're not too good at figuring these things out.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Both are the sorts of organs we needed a long time ago, when infections and food poisoning would have been everyday occurrences, but not so much anymore. So it's no surprise that their functions aren't that obvious.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by hedwards (940851)
          Not really, it's only in a relatively small part of the world where the appendix isn't that useful. Curiously, that's the developed world where there's also relatively easy access to apendectomies. But by population, the vast majority of people still need and use it. And even in the developed world, people do use it, it's just not as important with the easy access to probiotics.
      • by severoon (536737) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:56PM (#28948177) Journal
        So...you're saying it was a bad idea to get all the organs I didn't understand removed, then? Uh oh...
      • by DrVomact (726065)

        It's no different than the appendix. Apparently, unless its function is obvious, we're not too good at figuring these things out.

        That's unfair. At least we've figured out that the brain is useful for cooling blood. All those folds...it's obviously a heat exchanger.

        • by Abreu (173023)

          That's unfair. At least we've figured out that the brain is useful for cooling blood. All those folds...it's obviously a heat exchanger.

          But you don't really need it for the afterlife, so its ok to ask the priests to remove it with tongs through the nose once youre dead...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by blahplusplus (757119)

      "How could they miss that?"

      Biologies obsession with vestigal organs:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermiform_appendix#Vestigiality [wikipedia.org]

      Early evolution theorists figured the body would have a lot of "vestigal" organs that did nothing, the same goes for junk dna

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_dna [wikipedia.org]

      • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:57PM (#28948205)
        The obsession, is relatively reasonable. What isn't reasonable is the tendency to relegate still useful things into that category.

        The ability to wiggle ones ears is a pretty good example, unless you can do it, you'd never appreciate the help that is in figuring out where sounds are coming from. Sure it's not as useful as it was. Well, scratch that, with all the randomly beeping things we have in the modern era it helps one figure out where they are hiding.
        • by PReDiToR (687141)
          That ability probably wouldn't help if you were looking for one of these [thinkgeek.com].
        • by Shin-LaC (1333529)
          I can wiggle my ears (curiously, the left more than the right), but I don't think that helps me detect the origin of sounds. I just move my head like everyone else.

          I wear glasses, btw, and moving my ears also affects them. That means it's unlikely that I subconsciously move my ears to improve listening, because I'd certainly feel my glasses moving. OTOH, it might also mean that I've gotten used to not moving my ears precisely to avoid moving my glasses.

          To sum up, glasses are more useful than wiggly ears
    • by kheldan (1460303) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:07PM (#28948363) Journal
      In the grand view of things, medical science is still in it's infancy, even if it's late infancy; there are still more things that are NOT understood than that ARE understood. From my layman's perspective it seems to me like trying to work on an automobile's engine while it's running, but unlike that engine, if you shut down and dismantle the human engine, you can't just put it back together again, pour gas and oil in it, and expect it to run ever again. It seems that since we have developed better and better imaging technologies this situation has begun to improve, but I think it'll take even bigger leaps in that technology before we can really start getting a handle on "the basics".
    • by BigDukeSix (832501) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:42PM (#28948791)
      The important discovery here is not that the spleen has monocytes in it, because you do in fact see a ton of them when you look at splenic tissue under the microscope. The interesting thing about this discovery is that the spleen can (evidently) release a bunch of those cells in response to an injury. The bone marrow does this too, but the WBCs it releases are immature, and we know that there are changes in the way WBCs function as they age. It would appear that "spleen" WBCs are optimized for their tissue repair properties, while "bone marrow" WBCs are better for fighting infection.

      It will be interesting to see if this holds true in humans. Lots of animals have spleens that seem more functional than ours. Cats and dogs, for example, can "transfuse" themselves with the blood from their spleen in response to bleeding, but this does not hold true for humans.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:54PM (#28948969)

      I'm sure someone cut open a spleen before and looked at it through a microscope. Wouldn't you see an unusually high concentration of the monocytes?

      For one thing, compared to what? As the article points out

      Its such a vascularized organ, and the risk of big-time hemorrhaging is so great, that if the spleen ruptures, itâ(TM)s a surgical emergency,â said James N. George, a hematologist with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

      It's full of blood, if you thought you noticed a high amount of monocytes, you'd probably think: they're blood cells and the spleen is full of blood cells. The finding is, as I understand it, that BLOOD from the spleen is higher in monocytes. You'd have to compare blood from the spleen to blood circulating in other organs.

      The other issue is that monocytes would be hard to specifically identify, and probably impossible to count in tissue slices. This page [profelis.org] has some examples of what monocytes look like when they're specifically stained (with hematoxylin and eosin I think), and what other blood cells look like. That's when they're stained just right and drawn out of an organ. If you're looking at slices of a spleen under a microscope, that's not going to jump out at you even if you were staining with H&E. The article used antibodies to specifically identify only monocytes. Antibodies recognize and can label specific proteins, they chose proteins that would be specific to monocytes. That's not something you do unless you're looking for monocytes specifically.

      So you wouldn't notice monocytes unless you stained with antibodies specific to them, and even then, you wouldn't be able to compare them accurately in microscope sections.

        In the real article [sciencemag.org], the authors seem to have used fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) [wikipedia.org] on spleen isolated blood to compare to circulating blood from other organs.

      FACS as I understand it (never done it myself, only heard about, and I'm not reading the real article too closely either) is where isolated cells one at a time are sprayed through a laser. If the cell has a fluroescent tag on it, that makes it deviate from the path it would take if it doesn't. You can collect cells that deviate and cells that don't, the machine counts them, and you can then compare the ratios (easier than counting in a microscope.) So they were able to use that to show it had a higher ratio.

      Collecting blood from isolated tissues, prepping it with the antibodies for monocytes, prepping that for FACS and then actually doing FACS is not trivial, you're not going to be doing it unless you're specifically testing a hypothesis like the ones the authors had.

      (disclaimer: I'm not an expert in spleens, immunology, or FACS and I didn't read either article in depth.)

  • What we don't know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:01PM (#28947469)

    Somehow, I always find it amazing the things we don't know about. We know the makeup of the universe down to a couple of percentage points. We know what subatomic particles do what, and have theories to predict other ones that have virtually no effect on our universe. We know when the sun is going to run out of fuel and have pretty accurate theories about what will happen to the solar system when that happens.

    Yet, somehow, we don't know the basic workings of our own bodies.

    • by T Murphy (1054674) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:07PM (#28947553) Journal

      Yet, somehow, we don't know the basic workings of our own bodies.

      Proof that God is male- he ignores the concept of an instruction manual.

      • by Burning1 (204959)

        Proof that god is a project manager. He wants us to develop instructions, but doesn't give us access to any engineering resources.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by N1ck0 (803359)
        Dude what do you expect humans are still in an alpha release...If you want to know how it works your just going to have to read the code. They run pretty crappie because they are mainly a few hacks wrapped around bits and pieces cobbled together from other projects. The betas and the QA lab are still billions of years away. But trust me the new interface that's coming out is going to be sweet.

        Unfortunately at the next major release they wipe the dev systems to clean out any faulty data. Sorry.
    • by rho (6063) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:09PM (#28947597) Homepage Journal

      Little advertised fact about science is nearly everything should be appended with "... according to current models," but isn't. Because then it sounds like scientists don't know anything. Which they do know something, at least according to current models, but the truth is complicated and sells poorly.

      Unfortunately, not enough scientists on the TV are this honest. Or they're not allowed to be. Whichever, it makes them look like chumps when they assuredly aren't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jollyreaper (513215)

      Somehow, I always find it amazing the things we don't know about. We know the makeup of the universe down to a couple of percentage points. We know what subatomic particles do what, and have theories to predict other ones that have virtually no effect on our universe. We know when the sun is going to run out of fuel and have pretty accurate theories about what will happen to the solar system when that happens.

      Yet, somehow, we don't know the basic workings of our own bodies.

      At first blush I'd want to question our supposed knowledge of those other heady areas of knowledge. Of course, that's not entirely the case. I'm partial to the book a Short History of Nearly Everything [wikipedia.org]. If nothing else, it will help you appreciate how we came by certain bits of knowledge while missing other things.

    • Because frankly, the human body is a way more complex system than the sun. And we can predict one, two, or *mayybe* three elementary particles. But then it becomes next to impossible.
      Our bodies in all its functions, are insanely complex. As complex as a continent perhaps. Or at least as a city. (If you know how to translate the complexity.)

      Also, you always have to watch where the money is in. It's certainly not as much in healing people as in selling lies in pill form.

    • Yet, somehow, we don't know the basic workings of our own bodies.

      If we didn't already know quite a bit about the basic workings of our own bodies, we wouldn't have been able to make the discovery discussed in TFA.

      Be careful not to confuse "we don't know everything," which is clearly true, with "we don't know anything," which is a favorite propaganda technique of anti-science fanatics (and usually followed up with "... except for what my personal fairy tale tells us, which of course Explains Everything.")

    • Complexity (Score:2, Interesting)

      by PleaseFearMe (1549865)

      Our bodies are far more complex than a broad view of the universe. There are many interconnecting processes that all work together to use energy from our environment. The universe, ignoring the living things,can be described with far fewer vocabulary words than biology. While our bodies have a lower score on size than the universe, our bodies have a higher score on complexity, and it is complexity that makes a subject difficult. Once the GUT is found and fully understood, physics should be nothing but a

  • So what happens when someone has AIDS?

    Are those monocytes sitting around doing nothing? Are they depleted? Something else?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kligat (1244968)

      AIDS is like a zombie virus, but for white blood cells, DoofusOfDeath. Unlike most viruses, it doesn't spread when the white blood cell explodes. The zombie white blood cell piles onto the healthy one and turns it into another of the infected. For more information, please direct the creators of Osmosis Jones [wikipedia.org] to create an R-rated sequel.

  • No problem. (Score:5, Funny)

    by T Murphy (1054674) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:02PM (#28947493) Journal

    However, some studies have suggested an enhanced risk of early death for those who have undergone splenectomies

    I don't see how this is a problem. This is a new discovery- those old spleens didn't have this functionality yet.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by napalmfires (946900)
      what idiot modded this insightful? it's a joke!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        what idiot modded this insightful? it's a joke!

        Modding jokes insightful is a subtle way for the mods to reward the poster of a clever joke with karma.

      • by T Murphy (1054674)
        I appreciate the karma but tbh I'd rather people just mod me funny. I don't know if a +5 insightful will take mod points from people trying to shift it to funny (thus wasting mod points), but at the very least it is an unnecessary practice. Yes, I have had my fair share of jokes modded troll, but funny could be modified to "pardon" negative karma without giving positive karma. If there is a problem funny should be changed, not avoided. Most of my +5 comments are jokes, but I don't mind earning my karma the
    • However, some studies have suggested an enhanced risk of early death for those who have undergone splenectomies

      No, it's the possibility of some tests that think this may lead to a slightly larger possibility of DEATH to a very small percentage of the human population. Very concrete facts. This is a major problem. A matter of national security.

    • by xant (99438)

      I knew there was something fishy about the logic used in the summary. Could we not conclude that unhealthy spleens are a symptom of an overall attribute of unhealthiness for that person? The fact that they die early doesn't tell you very much about the spleen's role in the death. By analogy:

      "However, some studies have suggested an enhanced risk of early death for those who have undergone bulletectomies after being shot with a bullet."

      You would not draw from this statement the conclusion that bullets were

  • by sp1nl0ck (241836) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:06PM (#28947537)

    My Dad had his spleen removed when he was a kid, and a number of years ago (10) was told he had to carry a card around with him that said something like

    "I have had my spleen removed and may be subject to overwhelming infection."

    Seriously. We told him he shouldn't use that as his opening gambit when talking to girls :-)

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Em Emalb (452530)

      Change two letters in that sentence and he might get some play:

      "I have had my spleen removed and may be subject to overwhelming affection."

      C'mon, that's ancient Pimp right there.

      (Or just really really cheesy and creepy, I haven't figured it out yet.)

    • I had my spleen removed 10 years ago, but I was just told to get yearly flu shots and to get a pneumonia shot every 5 years.
  • is because in modern life, we just don't get beat up that much

    that is, early, more primitive man was probably getting the shit kicked out of him a lot, from the environment, and other humans. such that you needed a repository of monocytes at the ready for immediate damage repair a lot more often, as a survival advantage

    civilized more sedentary life, meanwhile, with all of the medical support that affords, means we could not easily see why removing the spleen had any jeopardy attached to it

    we can survive just fine, even without this organic built-in trauma preparedness kit, as long as we have trauma inpatient units at the hospital close by

  • by AtomicSnarl (549626) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:10PM (#28947609) Homepage
    Lovely! This goes along with a recent discovery that the Appendix serves as reservoir for the gastrointestinal system's supply of friendly microbes which help digest our food.

    No news yet on earlobes.
  • Now becomes a positive phrase aimed at solving your problems

    "Had a really tough problem today but I vented my spleen and just worked it out"

  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:15PM (#28947689) Homepage

    Funny, I always believed that the spleen was the center of the immune system. I got lymphoma (the AIDS of cancers) ten years ago, and I gave thanks that it was caught early enough that I didn't need to have my spleen removed, only a tumorous lymph node in my neck, followed by some radiotherapy.

    • by 93,000 (150453)

      My father had his spleen removed around 20 years ago due to cancer. The spleen itself didn't have cancer, but they took it out as a precaution. He died of complications from heart disease this year at age 65. It's only one instance, of course, but it supports what I've read about this so far.

      Glad you got to keep yours.. :)

  • Of all the grand phenomenon we've discovered, evolution's got to be the most incredible thing ever realised by man.

    And to think - enough of the basics to build a simple model for transforming self replicating chemicals into to this elegance are within reach of simple lay-folks like me.

  • that we're learning more about the human body everyday!

  • My spleen just doesn't matter
    Don't really care about my bladder
    But I don't leave home without
    My pancreas

  • by AP31R0N (723649)

    Did it just start doing this? That seems unlikely.

    • by LordKaT (619540)

      Yes, we finally saved up enough Evo points. The human species got upgraded yesterday.

  • My spleen attracts every other spleen in the universe with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the [square of the] distance between them. (to misquote Weird Al Yankovic)
  • Even all this time we thought spleen was a place for destruction of blood cells but now found that it is a reservoir for some types of white blood cells. We will continue to find new discoveries for what we think is already know.

  • New? Again? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @06:48PM (#28949637) Journal

    From PubMed, search terms 'spleen, function, monocyte, review' meaning it's only turn up review articles that cover collections of previous articles on the subject. Those research articles would be older, the reviews not so much. Still, 35 years is a fair bit of wallop to the "new discovery" claim, no?

    Clin Haematol. 1975 Oct;4(3):685-703. Mononuclear phagocyte proliferation, maturation and function.
    Territo MC, Cline MJ.

    The mononuclear phagocytic system is a continuum of cells beginning with the bone marrow monoblast and promonocyte, through the monocyte to the larger tissue macrophages and multinucleate giant cells. This system of cells is widely distributed throughout the body in the blood and bone marrow; the pleural, peritoneal, and alveolar spaces; the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, and other parenchymal organs. The activity and composition of the cell varies with the level of maturation, changes in cellular environment, and with various cellular activities. The monocyte-macrophage group of cells plays an active role in defense reactions against certain microorganisms, and in the removal of dying cells and cell debris. They are an integral part of both the inductive phase of the immune response, and of cell-mediated immune reactions. In addition, they probably play a role in the defence against spontaneously arising tumours, in the control of granulopoiesis, and possibly in erythropoiesis.

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