Neuroimmunology and Infection Research

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

What we do:

Our work focuses on infection and immunity of the brain and eye. Immune cells within the neural parenchyma perform many functions required for normal development and physiology of the central nervous system, and also play important roles in diseases affecting the brain and eye.

The overall aim of our research is to generate new knowledge of immune cells within the brain and eye during health and disease. Ultimately, our goal is to apply this knowledge to better understand normal neurological processes and identify immunotherapeutic targets for neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases.

Understanding the highly specialised immunological niches within the brain and eye


Microglia are the resident macrophages of the neural parenchyma. Microglia have important roles in immune surveillance, neurodevelopment, normal tissue function and disease. The lab is currently working to understand the phenotypic, functional and transcriptomic heterogeneity of microglia in the healthy brain and retina.

We use single cell sequencing, bulk RNA sequencing, spatial transcriptomics, functional studies and advanced imaging techniques to investigate microglia heterogeneity. We are also working to profile immune cells within the bordering tissues of the neural parenchyma, including the meninges that surround the brain and the choroid that lies beneath the retina. This research will generate a comprehensive ‘atlas’ of immune cells, which will advance our understanding of the immunobiology of the brain and eye.

Understanding pathogen invasion of the brain and the link between chronic infection and neurodegenerative diseases

Toxoplasma gondii cyst (red) surrounded by microglia (green) in the mouse brain

The central nervous system parenchyma is considered ‘immune privileged’ as it does not mount typical immune responses to antigens. This immune privilege provides an environment that allows some pathogens to establish latent or chronic infections within the brain and retina (Forrester, McMenamin, Dando, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2018). There is increasing evidence that chronic infection and inflammation of the central nervous system may be linked to neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases.

Toxoplasma gondii is a single celled parasite that is 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. In most people, these cysts persist as chronic infections. Our lab is interested in the mechanisms by which T. gondii invades the brain and retina and how the parasite interacts with immune cells in the central nervous system.

We are also investigating the long term effects of T. gondii infection and how chronic neuroinflammation may lead to neurodegeneration of the brain and retina. Understanding the role of infection and immunity in neurodegenerative disorders may lead to novel therapeutic approaches for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

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