Neuroimmunology and Infection Research

Samantha Dando is researching immune responses to infection in the eye and brain

Neuroimmunology and Infection research at QUT is led by Dr Samantha Dando.

Our research aims to:

  1. Understand the highly specialised immunological niches within the brain and eye, and their bordering tissues
  2. Determine how infection and immunity within the central nervous system (CNS) contributes to neurological and ocular diseases
  3. Understand how pathogens invade the CNS and persist as latent infections

Heterogeneity of  immune cells within the brain and eye

Microglia are the highly specialised innate immune cells of the CNS parenchyma. Microglia are responsible for immune surveillance of the CNS but also have important roles in neurodevelopment, homeostasis and disease. The lab is currently working to understand the phenotypic, functional and transcriptomic heterogeneity of microglia located in different regions of the CNS. We are also working to profile immune cells within the bordering tissues of the CNS, including the meninges that surround the brain and the choroid that lies beneath the retina.

This research will generate a comprehensive ‘atlas’ of CNS immune cells, which will advance our understanding of the immunobiology of the brain and eye. Importantly, this knowledge will better equip us to understand immune-mediated diseases affecting the CNS and design immunotherapies for neuroinflammatory diseases.

 

Pathogen invasion of the central nervous system and links to neurodegenerative disease 

The CNS is considered to be ‘immune privileged’, as it does not mount typical immune responses to antigens. In collaboration with  Professor John Forrester (University of Aberdeen) and Professor Paul McMenamin (Monash University), Dr Dando has shed new light on our understanding of immune privilege. We propose that CNS immune privilege provides an environment that enables some pathogens to establish latent or chronic infections within the brain and retina.

Microglia (green cells) and blood vessels (red) in the mouse retina.

Toxoplasma gondii is a single celled parasite that found world-wide and estimated to infect ~30% of the world’s population. The parasite invades the brain and retina, where it converts into a slowly-replicating form within a cyst. We are interested in the mechanisms by which T. gondii invades the brain and retina and how it interacts with immune cells in the CNS.

We are also investigating the links between chronic T. gondii infection and neurodegeneration of the brain and retina. Understanding the role of infection and immunity in neurodegenerative disorders may lead to novel treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.