Protective autoimmunity in the nervous system

Jerome J. Graber, Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The immune system can play both detrimental and beneficial roles in the nervous system. Multiple arms of the immune system, including T cells, B cells, NK cells, mast cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, microglia, antibodies, complement and cytokines participate in limiting damage to the nervous system during toxic, ischemic, hemorrhagic, infective, degenerative, metabolic and immune-mediated insults and also assist in the process of repair after injury has occurred. Immune cells have been shown to produce neurotrophic growth factors and interact with neurons and glial cells to preserve them from injury and stimulate growth and repair. The immune system also appears to participate in proliferation of neural progenitor stem cells and their migration to sites of injury. Neural stem cells can also modify the immune response in the central and peripheral nervous system to enhance neuroprotective effects. Evidence for protective and reparative functions of the immune system has been found in diverse neurologic diseases including traumatic injury, ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, multiple sclerosis, infection, and neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Existing therapies including glatiramer acetate, interferon-beta and immunoglobulin have been shown to augment the protective and regenerative aspects of the immune system in humans, and other experimental interventions such as vaccination, minocycline, antibodies and neural stem cells, have shown promise in animal models of disease. The beneficent aspects of the immune response in the nervous system are beginning to be appreciated and their potential as pharmacologic targets in neurologic disease is being explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-159
Number of pages13
JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2009


  • Autoimmunity
  • Neuroprotection
  • Neurorepair
  • Protective immunity
  • Regulatory T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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