Immunobiology of neurological disorders


Group Leader

Cinthia Farina


The main focus of Immunobiology of neurological disorders Unit is the study of the biological processes associated with multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system (CNS) characterized by the loss of the myelin sheath surrounding the axons leading to alterations of the action potential propagation. It is presumably an autoimmune disease, as MS lesions present immune cell infiltration and the animal model of disease, the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), is induced by immunization with myelin antigens. This leads to the activation of encephalitogenic T lymphocytes that enter the CNS, attack the myelin-forming cells (the oligodendrocytes) and start an inflammatory reaction that is amplified by CNS resident cells as the astrocytes and the microglia and by infiltrating immune cells. The currently used therapeutics for MS patients are immunosuppressive and immunomodulatory drugs, indicating that peripheral processes sustain disease. Thus, both central and peripheral events are involved in MS and need to be investigated.

Research activity

The scientific activity of the Unit has been and is currently driven by a translational approach. Taking the moves from clinical observations and from human samples (blood or cerebral tissue), group research explores the activity of immune/glial/neuronal cells in vitro, sums up the high-throughput generated data with systems biology approaches, goes to the in vivo mouse models, until it is ready to go back to the clinic via the identification of novel diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers and the proposition of new therapeutic targets and approaches.

CNS Homeostasis and Pathology
• Reactive glia in neurodegenerative disorders
• Neuroprotective vs neuroinflammatory role of astrocytes 
• Interaction between glia and neuronal or immune cells
• Neuroprotective properties of current MS therapeutics

Transcriptomics, bioinformatics and systems biology in neurological disorders
• Functional Genomics in Clinically Isolated Syndromes and MS 
• Genetic and transcriptional protein networks in neurological disorders
• Functional annotation, target identification and validation

Monitoring immunomodulatory therapies for multiple sclerosis
• Pharmaco-transcriptomics and biomarker identification 
• Immunological tests for MS therapeutics

Basic Neuroimmunology: Interaction between nervous and immune system
• Activation of immune cells by neurotrophic factors
• Neurotrophins and T cell development and activation