'Nerves' can bring skin problems, scientists find

May 13, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Scientists have found the first evidence of an anatomical connection between the nervous system and the immune system.

Nerve cell endings in the skin and white blood cells of the immune system are in intimate contact, and chemicals secreted by the nerves can shut down immune system cells nearby.

Dermatologists said that the finding, by Dr. Richard D. Granstein of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Dr. George F. Murphy of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, could help explain anecdotal reports that such diseases as psoriasis are exacerbated by stress. They say it might also help explain the mechanism of skin cancer.

"This may be the connection between the nervous system and the immune system that we've all been looking for," said Dr. Craig Elmets, a dermatologist and cancer specialist at Case Western Reserve University.

The finding is published today in the British journal Nature.

Dr. Brian Nickoloff, a dermatologist at the University of Michigan, said hints that some skin diseases were exacerbated by psychological factors had been so persistent that he found them hard to dismiss.

The new finding, he added, could "give you an anatomical and ultimately a molecular basis for this phenomenon."

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