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Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2009;334:227-63. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-93864-4_10.

Inflammation on the mind: visualizing immunity in the central nervous system.

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National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, 10 Center Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


The central nervous system (CNS) is a remarkably complex structure that utilizes electrochemical signaling to coordinate activities throughout the entire body. Because the nervous system contains nonreplicative cells, it is postulated that, through evolutionary pressures, this compartment has acquired specialized mechanisms to limit damage. One potential source of damage comes from our immune system, which has the capacity to survey the CNS and periphery for the presence of foreign material. The immune system is equipped with numerous effector mechanisms and can greatly alter the homeostasis and function of the CNS. Degeneration, autoimmunity, and pathogen infection can all result in acute, and sometimes chronic, inflammation within the CNS. Understanding the specialized functionality of innate and adaptive immune cells within the CNS is critical to the design of more efficacious treatments to mitigate CNS inflammatory conditions. Much of our knowledge of CNS-immune interactions stems from seminal studies that have used static and dynamic imaging approaches to visualize inflammatory cells responding to different CNS conditions. This review will focus on how imaging techniques have elevated our understanding of CNS inflammation as well as the exciting prospects that lie ahead as we begin to pursue investigation of the inflamed CNS in real time.

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