Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Day 5 at #SfN13: Immune Cells, Alzheimer's Disease & Aging

Today in the symposium entitled 'How Do Immune Cells Shape the Brain in Health, Disease and Aging?' Michal Schwartz gave a wonderful talk on the saga evolving from her work in this area. As her lab website says, they work on 'contemporary neuroimmunology'. I encourage everyone to visit the website as it is an impressively constructed lab homepage and highly informative. In her introduction, she highlighted that giving a talk on the benefit of immune cell function in the brain would've been highly controversial 10 years ago. This is because the brain and spinal cord are historically considered to be immune privileged. Views on this are quickly changing and the fact that an entire symposium was dedicated to this topic, it is evident that we are going to learn so much more in this area in the near future. In part of the presentation, her work very elegantly demonstrated that immune cells are in fact recruited when the central nervous system (CNS) is injured (in this case it was spinal cord injury). This, as Michal notes that, "It is no longer question of whether immune cells are recruited in the event of CNS injury. It is a question of how we can recruit more for repair." As part of this work, her lab demonstrated how this communication across the choroid plexus can be altered in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's or through aging. In Alzheimer's disease, Michal suggests that anti-inflammatory drugs have been largely unsuccessful because her data shows these compounds suppress T-cell activation in choroid plexus. Activation of choroid plexus resident cells directly correlated with removal of plaque and restoration of cognitive function in an Alzheimer's model (uh... amazing—a word I have used a lot during this meeting). Further, in her talk, evidence was demonstrated that during aging, immune cells in choroid plexus are secreting CCL11 into the CNS and disrupting hippocampal plasticity. In regards to this finding, further data was presented on how they reversed this disruption in their aging animals. This was promising and I am very interested to see where this work is going to go (as well as going back and reading through the papers that were presented at a crazy-fast pace).

Michal Schwartz giving a fascinating talk on her work.

As this was my first year blogging for the annual meeting, I thought it might be a nice idea to try and cover the full range of meeting activities from posters to symposia. One of the things that is important to experience when you are at the meeting is the people. This is our chance to have interactions that we might not have otherwise. Interactions that are so fruitful, I don't know how anyone could leave this meeting without new ideas. As part of my activities here, I have interviewed some big names in our field and will be posting those likely on my plain ride back to Washington, D.C. Leading people in science that I spoke with were, just that: people. I am always revitalized when I come to these meetings and talk to 'big wigs' because they have always been invariably wonderful. Scientists who obviously are people first, scientists second.

If you are a scientist or not, you cannot help but be inspired when you walk into a building with 30,000+ people all working towards a common goal. And for most of us society members, I would like to think that our common goal is to improve human health and to understand the biggest puzzle in biology: the brain. See you all next year in Washington, D.C. at the 44th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.