The human genome encodes thousands of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs). Although most remain functionally uncharacterized biological “dark matter,” lncRNAs have garnered considerable attention for their diverse roles in human biology, including developmental programs and tumor suppressor gene networks. As the number of lncRNAs associated with human disease grows, ongoing research efforts are focusing on their regulatory mechanisms. New technologies that enable enumeration of lncRNA interaction partners and determination of lncRNA structure are well positioned to drive deeper understanding of their functions and involvement in pathogenesis. In turn, lncRNAs may become targets for therapeutic intervention or new tools for biotechnology.
Lance Martin, Howard Y. Chang
Immune responses in the CNS are common, despite its perception as a site of immune privilege. These responses can be mediated by resident microglia and astrocytes, which are innate immune cells without direct counterparts in the periphery. Furthermore, CNS immune reactions often take place in virtual isolation from the innate/adaptive immune interplay that characterizes peripheral immunity. However, microglia and astrocytes also engage in significant cross-talk with CNS-infiltrating T cells and other components of the innate immune system. Here we review the cellular and molecular basis of innate immunity in the CNS and discuss what is known about how outcomes of these interactions can lead to resolution of infection, neurodegeneration, or neural repair depending on the context.
Richard M. Ransohoff, Melissa A. Brown
Tissues of the CNS, such as the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord, may be affected by a range of insults including genetic, autoimmune, infectious, or neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The immune system is involved in the pathogenesis of many of these, either by causing tissue damage or alternatively by responding to disease and contributing to repair. It is clearly vital that cells of the immune system patrol the CNS and protect against infection. However, in contrast to other tissues, damage caused by immune pathology in the CNS can be irreparable. The nervous and immune systems have, therefore, coevolved to permit effective immune surveillance while limiting immune pathology. Here we will consider aspects of adaptive immunity in the CNS and the retina, both in the context of protection from infection as well as cancer and autoimmunity, while focusing on immune responses that compromise health and lead to significant morbidity.
David C. Wraith, Lindsay B. Nicholson
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a multifocal demyelinating disease with progressive neurodegeneration caused by an autoimmune response to self-antigens in a genetically susceptible individual. While the formation and persistence of meningeal lymphoid follicles suggest persistence of antigens to drive the continuing inflammatory and humoral response, the identity of an antigen or infectious agent leading to the oligoclonal expansion of B and T cells is unknown. In this review we examine new paradigms for understanding the immunopathology of MS, present recent data defining the common genetic variants underlying disease susceptibility, and explore how improved understanding of immune pathway disruption can inform MS prognosis and treatment decisions.
Alyssa Nylander, David A. Hafler
While immune responses in neurodegeneration were regarded as little more than a curiosity a decade ago, they are now increasingly moving toward center stage. Factors driving this movement include the recognition that most of the relevant immune molecules are produced within the brain, that microglia are proficient immune cells shaping neuronal circuitry and fate, and that systemic immune responses affect brain function. We will review this complex field from the perspective of neurons, extra-neuronal brain cells, and the systemic environment and highlight the possibility that cell intrinsic innate immune molecules in neurons may function in neurodegenerative processes.
Eva Czirr, Tony Wyss-Coray
Immunological and neural synapses share properties such as the synaptic cleft, adhesion molecules, stability, and polarity. However, the mismatch in scale has limited the utility of these comparisons. The discovery of phosphatase micro-exclusion from signaling elements in immunological synapses and innate phagocytic synapses define a common functional unit at a common sub-micron scale across synapse types. Bundling of information from multiple antigen receptor microclusters by an immunological synapse has parallels to bundling of multiple synaptic inputs into a single axonal output by neurons, allowing integration and coincidence detection. Bonafide neuroimmune synapses control the inflammatory reflex. A better understanding of the shared mechanisms between immunological and neural synapses could aid in the development of new therapeutic modalities for immunological, neurological, and neuroimmunological disorders alike.
Michael L. Dustin
Neurobiologists and immunologists study concepts often signified with identical terminology. Scientists in both fields study a structure known as the synapse, and each group analyzes a subject called memory. Is this a quirk of human language, or are there real similarities between these two physiological systems? Not only are the linguistic concepts expressed in the words “synapse” and “memory” shared between the fields, but the actual molecules of physiologic importance in one system play parallel roles in the other: complement, the major histocompatibility molecules, and even “neuro”-transmitters all have major impacts on health and on disease in both the brain and the immune system. Not only are the same molecules found in diverse roles in each system, but we have learned that there is real “hard-wired” crosstalk between nerves and lymphoid organs. This issue of the JCI highlights some of the lessons learned from experts who are working at this scintillating intersection between immunology and neuroscience.
Chromosomal instability (CIN) is a hallmark of human neoplasms. Despite its widespread prevalence, knowledge of the mechanisms and contributions of CIN in cancer has been elusive. It is now evident that the role of CIN in tumor initiation and growth is more complex than previously thought. Furthermore, distinguishing CIN, which consists of elevated rates of chromosome missegregation, from aneuploidy, which is a state of abnormal chromosome number, is crucial to understanding their respective contributions in cancer. Collectively, experimental evidence suggests that CIN enables tumor adaptation by allowing tumors to constantly sample the aneuploid fitness landscape. This complex relationship, together with the potential to pharmacologically influence chromosome missegregation frequencies in cancer cells, offers previously unrecognized means to limit tumor growth and its response to therapy.
Samuel F. Bakhoum, Duane A. Compton
Diversity and plasticity are hallmarks of cells of the monocyte-macrophage lineage. In response to IFNs, Toll-like receptor engagement, or IL-4/IL-13 signaling, macrophages undergo M1 (classical) or M2 (alternative) activation, which represent extremes of a continuum in a universe of activation states. Progress has now been made in defining the signaling pathways, transcriptional networks, and epigenetic mechanisms underlying M1-M2 or M2-like polarized activation. Functional skewing of mononuclear phagocytes occurs in vivo under physiological conditions (e.g., ontogenesis and pregnancy) and in pathology (allergic and chronic inflammation, tissue repair, infection, and cancer). However, in selected preclinical and clinical conditions, coexistence of cells in different activation states and unique or mixed phenotypes have been observed, a reflection of dynamic changes and complex tissue-derived signals. The identification of mechanisms and molecules associated with macrophage plasticity and polarized activation provides a basis for macrophage-centered diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.
Antonio Sica, Alberto Mantovani
Retinoblastoma is a pediatric retinal tumor initiated by biallelic inactivation of the retinoblastoma gene (RB1). RB1 was the first identified tumor suppressor gene and has defined roles in the regulation of cell cycle progression, DNA replication, and terminal differentiation. However, despite the abundance of work demonstrating the molecular function and identifying binding partners of pRb, the challenge facing molecular biologists and clinical oncologists is how to integrate this vast body of molecular knowledge into the development of targeted therapies for treatment of retinoblastoma. We propose that a more thorough genetic understanding of retinoblastoma would inform targeted treatment decisions and could improve outcomes and quality of life in children affected by this disease.
Uma M. Sachdeva, Joan M. O’Brien
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