Researchers from Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil analyzed the interaction that takes place between the nervous and immune systems in different psychiatric and neurological diseases.

What do autism, disorders such as anxiety and depression, brain injuries and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis have in common? At first glance, little and nothing. However, researchers from Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil analyzed the role of neuroinflammation – that is, the inflammatory response that occurs in the brain – in these pathologies. The study was conducted in the framework of the Biomedical Research Network funded by the MERCOSUR Structural Convergence Fund (FOCEM, for its acronym in Spanish).

“The common thread of these pathologies is that the processes and molecules involved are very similar. The body triggers an inflammatory process in response to injury or stress that initially helps fight these injuries but, if maintained over time, ends up affecting the functioning of neurons”, explains Ana Liberman, associate researcher of CONICET at the IBioBA and one of the authors of the new study published in Neuroimmunomodulation.

In this review researchers of IBioBA; of the Institut Pasteur of Montevideo, Uruguay; and from the Federal Fluminense University, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and the D’Or Institute for Research and Education, in Brazil, describe how inflammation affects neurons in those diseases.


Cause and effect

When the body is subject to a harmful stimulus, such as an infection or injury, the organism triggers an inflammatory process mediated by the immune system.

Liberman and Damián Refojo, independent researcher at CONICET and leader of the Molecular Neurobiology group at IBioBA, described which molecules are involved in the neuroinflammation observed in pathologies such as depression or anxiety.

“This study is the result of the research network of FOCEM, which allows our institutes to conduct joint biological sciences research. This is a unique system for the promotion and regional interaction within the MERCOSUR”, says Refojo.

In this study Cecilia Hedin-Pereira and Marissol dos Santos Pereira from the Fiocruz Foundation analyzed the neural and immune networks involved in autism. Claudio Serfaty and Luana da Silva Chagas, from the Federal Fluminense University explained, together with Pablo Trindade from the D’Or Institute, the interaction between cell plasticity induced by brain injuries and inflammation. And Emiliano Trias, from the Institut Pasteur of Montevideo, described how neuroinflammation drives the neuronal degeneration that occurs in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

“I believe that regional collaborations are a very interesting differential value for science: there is very good science in Latin America, and in this work we all analyze the same phenomenon, that is, the relationship between the nervous system and the immune system under the lens of different diseases. This allows us to learn from the studies that colleagues are conducting in other countries, to see what techniques they used, and to learn together”, highlights Liberman.

For Claudio Serfaty, of the Neuronal Plasticity Laboratory of the Federal Fluminense University, “to write this study with researchers from the Institut Pasteur of Montevideo and the IBioBA was a great experience that allowed us to exchange of ideas and projects, to provide PhD students with a great training experience and, above all, brought together researchers different research institutes of MERCOSUR”.

And he adds: “This also allowed us to promote the neuroscience and neuroinflammation research areas, which are major challenges at the frontier of scientific knowledge and which have important repercussions in the public health in our countries”.