Neural regulation of Immunity

Pushing back the frontiers of immunology

Living organisms have develop mechanisms of defense against the dangers present in their environment. These protective mechanisms involve the actions of both the nervous and the immune systems, two systems generally considered to be autonomous with their own, separate functions. Recent studies have suggested, however, that they can cooperate to ensure efficient host response to pathogens and injury, but the molecular mechanisms involved and functional consequences of these interactions remain little understood.

Our laboratory aims to determine the precise impact of the nervous system on the immune response and to decipher the mechanisms underlying this regulation.

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Following tissue injury or infection, an inflammatory reaction develops, involving simultaneous activation of multiple pathways in the nerves and immune cells. Activation of the nervous system is accompanied by the systemic (in the bloodstream) and local (by the neurons themselves) production of mediators which can be recognized by receptors expressed on immune cells, modulating their activity. However, the precise role of these neuronal factors on immune responses remains poorly understood. We are studying two mains aspects of these neuro-immune regulations:

- The role of stress hormones produced by the hypothalamic-pitiutary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system

- The role of sensory neurons involved in pain sensitivity

A series of genetically modified mouse models are being studied as part of collaborations with researchers specializing in neurosciences, to identify the nature of the signals involved and to dissect the physiological and functional consequences of this regulation in different pathological contexts including septic shock, viral infection and tissue injury.

This work aims to open up new avenues of multidisciplinary research, with the goal of developing a more integrated vision of the host response to pathogens. The intention is also to contribute to the discovery of new therapeutic targets.