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Astrocytes in autoimmune disease: bedside to bench and back again

  • Friday, September 9, 2016
  • 1:30 PM–2:30 PM
  • Science Building 010

Margaret Caulfield, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Mayo Clinic


Astrocytes, glial cells found in the brain and spinal cord, are essential for the proper maintenance and function of the central nervous system (CNS).  Dyshomeostasis of astrocytic responses, including robust reactivity, has been implicated in a wide range of CNS disorders. Unfortunately there are only a few successful treatments and most disorders are without cures, supporting a need for continued investigation into the cellular and molecular biology guiding astrocyte reactivity and therapeutic strategies targeting such mechanisms. Neuromyelitis optica is a devastating neuroimmunological disease principally affecting astrocytes. This disease predominantly strikes young women, with a 5 year survival rate of only 68%. While significant progress has been made in identifying this as a distinct disease in the past decade, we still do not understand the biological mechanisms responsible for disease progression and we lack sophisticated therapeutic tools that can be used to stop or reverse the disease. Recent careful analysis of NMO patient lesions, as well and in vitro and in vivo mouse models of astrocyte responses to the NMO-specific autoantibody, has lead to our hypothesis that NMO disease progression is triggered by an antibody-mediated stimulation of astrocytes. This stimulation results in the creation of a local inflammatory environment and recruitment of peripheral immune cells into the brain, which then cause tissue damage. Studies are now focused on finding new ways of treating patients with NMO through the examination of therapeutic strategies targeted at these underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms.


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