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Promises and limitations of immune cell-based therapies in neurological disorders

Nature Reviews Neurologyvolume 14pages559568 (2018) | Download Citation


The healthy immune system has natural checkpoints that temper pernicious inflammation. Cells mediating these checkpoints include regulatory T cells, regulatory B cells, regulatory dendritic cells, microglia, macrophages and monocytes. Here, we highlight discoveries on the beneficial functions of regulatory immune cells and their mechanisms of action and evaluate their potential use as novel cell-based therapies for brain disorders. Regulatory immune cell therapies have the potential not only to mitigate the exacerbation of brain injury by inflammation but also to promote an active post-injury brain repair programme. By harnessing the reparative properties of these cells, we can reduce over-reliance on medications that mask clinical symptoms but fail to impede or reverse the progression of brain disorders. Although these discoveries encourage further testing and genetic engineering of regulatory immune cells for the clinical management of neurological disorders, a number of challenges must be surmounted to improve their safety and efficacy in humans.

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X.H. is supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) (NS094573 and NS092618). R.K.L. is supported by the NIH (1R15NS093539). A.W.T. is supported by the NIH (1R01AI118777 and U19AI131453). J.C. is supported by grants from the NIH (NS105430, NS095671, NS095029 and NS089534), the US Veterans Affairs (VA) Merit Review awards (I01BX003377 and I01BX002495) and the VA Senior Research Career Scientist Award.

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  1. Pittsburgh Institute of Brain Disorders and Recovery and Department of Neurology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

    • Xiaoming Hu
    • , Fang Yu
    • , Yuguo Xia
    • , Lawrence R. Wechsler
    •  & Jun Chen
  2. Division of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

    • Rehana K. Leak
  3. Starzl Transplantation Institute, Department of Surgery and Department of Immunology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

    • Angus W. Thomson


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All authors contributed to the review and editing of the manuscript before submission. X.H., R.K.L., A.W.T., F.Y., Y.X. and J.C. researched and wrote the article. X.H., R.K.L., A.W.T. and J.C. contributed substantially to the discussion of content.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Jun Chen.

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