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Brain Res Rev. 2011 Jan 7;66(1-2):152-73. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2010.09.008. Epub 2010 Sep 29.

Neuroinflammation and brain infections: historical context and current perspectives.

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Department of Neurological, Neuropsychological, Morphological and Motor Sciences, University of Verona, Verona, Italy.


An overview of current concepts on neuroinflammation and on the dialogue between neurons and non-neuronal cells in three important infections of the central nervous systems (rabies, cerebral malaria, and human African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness) is here presented. Large numbers of cases affected by these diseases are currently reported. In the context of an issue dedicated to Camillo Golgi, historical notes on seminal discoveries on these diseases are also presented. Neuroinflammation is currently closely associated with pathogenetic mechanisms of chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Neuroinflammatory signaling in brain infections is instead relatively neglected in the neuroscience community, despite the fact that the above infections provide paradigmatic examples of alterations of the intercellular crosstalk between neurons and non-neuronal cells. In rabies, strategies of immune evasion of the host lead to silencing neuroinflammatory signaling. In the intravascular pathology which characterizes cerebral malaria, leukocytes and Plasmodium do not enter the brain parenchyma. In sleeping sickness, leukocytes and African trypanosomes invade the brain parenchyma at an advanced stage of infection. Both the latter pathologies leave open many questions on the targeting of neuronal functions and on the pathogenetic role of non-neuronal cells, and in particular astrocytes and microglia, in these diseases. All three infections are hallmarked by very severe clinical pictures and relative sparing of neuronal structure. Multidisciplinary approaches and a concerted action of the neuroscience community are needed to shed light on intercellular crosstalk in these dreadful brain diseases. Such effort could also lead to new knowledge on non-neuronal mechanisms which determine neuronal death or survival.

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