Immunological and neural synapses share properties such as the synaptic cleft, adhesion molecules, stability, and polarity. However, the mismatch in scale has limited the utility of these comparisons. The discovery of phosphatase micro-exclusion from signaling elements in immunological synapses and innate phagocytic synapses define a common functional unit at a common sub-micron scale across synapse types. Bundling of information from multiple antigen receptor microclusters by an immunological synapse has parallels to bundling of multiple synaptic inputs into a single axonal output by neurons, allowing integration and coincidence detection. Bonafide neuroimmune synapses control the inflammatory reflex. A better understanding of the shared mechanisms between immunological and neural synapses could aid in the development of new therapeutic modalities for immunological, neurological, and neuroimmunological disorders alike.
Michael L. Dustin
Tissues of the CNS, such as the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord, may be affected by a range of insults including genetic, autoimmune, infectious, or neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The immune system is involved in the pathogenesis of many of these, either by causing tissue damage or alternatively by responding to disease and contributing to repair. It is clearly vital that cells of the immune system patrol the CNS and protect against infection. However, in contrast to other tissues, damage caused by immune pathology in the CNS can be irreparable. The nervous and immune systems have, therefore, coevolved to permit effective immune surveillance while limiting immune pathology. Here we will consider aspects of adaptive immunity in the CNS and the retina, both in the context of protection from infection as well as cancer and autoimmunity, while focusing on immune responses that compromise health and lead to significant morbidity.
David C. Wraith, Lindsay B. Nicholson
Neurobiologists and immunologists study concepts often signified with identical terminology. Scientists in both fields study a structure known as the synapse, and each group analyzes a subject called memory. Is this a quirk of human language, or are there real similarities between these two physiological systems? Not only are the linguistic concepts expressed in the words “synapse” and “memory” shared between the fields, but the actual molecules of physiologic importance in one system play parallel roles in the other: complement, the major histocompatibility molecules, and even “neuro”-transmitters all have major impacts on health and on disease in both the brain and the immune system. Not only are the same molecules found in diverse roles in each system, but we have learned that there is real “hard-wired” crosstalk between nerves and lymphoid organs. This issue of the JCI highlights some of the lessons learned from experts who are working at this scintillating intersection between immunology and neuroscience.
Immune responses in the CNS are common, despite its perception as a site of immune privilege. These responses can be mediated by resident microglia and astrocytes, which are innate immune cells without direct counterparts in the periphery. Furthermore, CNS immune reactions often take place in virtual isolation from the innate/adaptive immune interplay that characterizes peripheral immunity. However, microglia and astrocytes also engage in significant cross-talk with CNS-infiltrating T cells and other components of the innate immune system. Here we review the cellular and molecular basis of innate immunity in the CNS and discuss what is known about how outcomes of these interactions can lead to resolution of infection, neurodegeneration, or neural repair depending on the context.
Richard M. Ransohoff, Melissa A. Brown
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a multifocal demyelinating disease with progressive neurodegeneration caused by an autoimmune response to self-antigens in a genetically susceptible individual. While the formation and persistence of meningeal lymphoid follicles suggest persistence of antigens to drive the continuing inflammatory and humoral response, the identity of an antigen or infectious agent leading to the oligoclonal expansion of B and T cells is unknown. In this review we examine new paradigms for understanding the immunopathology of MS, present recent data defining the common genetic variants underlying disease susceptibility, and explore how improved understanding of immune pathway disruption can inform MS prognosis and treatment decisions.
Alyssa Nylander, David A. Hafler
While immune responses in neurodegeneration were regarded as little more than a curiosity a decade ago, they are now increasingly moving toward center stage. Factors driving this movement include the recognition that most of the relevant immune molecules are produced within the brain, that microglia are proficient immune cells shaping neuronal circuitry and fate, and that systemic immune responses affect brain function. We will review this complex field from the perspective of neurons, extra-neuronal brain cells, and the systemic environment and highlight the possibility that cell intrinsic innate immune molecules in neurons may function in neurodegenerative processes.
Eva Czirr, Tony Wyss-Coray
Age-related macular disease (AMD) accounts for more than 50% of blind registration in Western society. Patients with AMD are classified as having early disease, in which visual function is well preserved, or late disease, in which central vision is lost. Until recently, there was no therapy available by which the course of the disorder could be modified. Now, the most common form of late-stage AMD — choroidal neovascularization — responds to treatment with anti-VEGF therapies; although visual loss is modified in a portion of these cases, no therapeutic approach exists that alters the evolution from early to late disease. However, as discussed in this Review, research over the last few years has demonstrated several features of AMD that are likely to be amenable to treatment. Potential targets for treatment are described, and possible therapeutic approaches are discussed.
Alan C. Bird
Nonsyndromic recessive retinal dystrophies cause severe visual impairment due to the death of photoreceptor and retinal pigment epithelium cells. These diseases until recently have been considered to be incurable. Molecular genetic studies in the last two decades have revealed the underlying molecular causes in approximately two-thirds of patients. The mammalian eye has been at the forefront of therapeutic trials based on gene augmentation in humans with an early-onset nonsyndromic recessive retinal dystrophy due to mutations in the retinal pigment epithelium–specific protein 65kDa (RPE65) gene. Tremendous challenges still lie ahead to extrapolate these studies to other retinal disease–causing genes, as human gene augmentation studies require testing in animal models for each individual gene and sufficiently large patient cohorts for clinical trials remain to be identified through cost-effective mutation screening protocols.
Anneke I. den Hollander, Aaron Black, Jean Bennett, Frans P.M. Cremers
Vision research has often led to significant advances in our understanding of biology. There has also been particular success in translating basic research in the eye into breakthrough clinical therapies that mark important milestones for ophthalmology and also for medical research. Anti-VEGF therapy for age-related macular degeneration was named as one of the top ten science advancements of the year 2006. Only two years later, successful transfer of the RPE65 gene into retinal pigment epithelium of patients with Leber congenital amaurosis was noted as one of the most important clinical applications of gene therapy. The articles in this Review series outline current developments in vision research and highlight its continued importance in ophthalmology and medicine.
Andreas Stahl, Lois E.H. Smith
Autoimmune and inflammatory uveitis are a group of potentially blinding intraocular inflammatory diseases that arise without a known infectious trigger and are often associated with immunological responses to unique retinal proteins. In the United States, about 10% of the cases of severe visual handicap are attributed to this group of disorders. As I discuss here, experimental models of ocular autoimmunity targeting retinal proteins have brought about a better understanding of the basic immunological mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of uveitis and are serving as templates for the development of novel therapies.
Rachel R. Caspi
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