Glial biology/Neuroimmunology /brain tumors
Until recently, glia were thought to solely function as support cells that aided in neuronal and axonal protection. However, within the last decade,basic and clinical research have demonstrated that these previously under- appreciated cells play essential roles in nervous system development, axonal pathfinding, synaptogenesis, synaptic remodeling/plasticity, learning and memory, modulation of neurotransmission, clearance of debris, regeneration, immune responses and disease, just to name a few! The future of glial biology is rapidly expanding with many labs focusing on their roles in development, disease and regeneration. Similarly, the field of neuroimmunology has enjoyed a renaissance in the past decade with the unexpected discovery that T cells and microglia, previously seen only as destructive participants in neuroinflammatory diseases, can in fact confer beneficial effects after CNS injury and in chronic neurodegenerative conditions. Moreover, glial cells (astrocytes and microglia), working in concert with immune cells were recently shown to play a significant role in cognitive function and regulation of neurogenesis. This opened new frontiers in psychoneuroimmunology research and can be expected to be instrumental in the development of new therapeutic approaches for cognitive disorders associated with immune dysfunction, such as HIV-dementia, age-related dementia, chemo brain and others. Researchers at UVa study the complex neuroimmune interactions in many paradigms, including in the healthy brain, in response to cognitive stimuli, stress conditions, in mental states (such as depression), in neurodevelopmental diseases (such as autism spectrum disorders), in neurodegenerative disorders (such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease), and in brain tumors. By elucidating how glia and immune cells influence nervous system function, scientists will be able to derive drug treatments and therapies to many neural cancers and degenerative diseases.