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When Controls Fail

In autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system. Immunologist Sarah Mundt wants to figure out why that happens and how to keep autoreactive T cells in check.

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Immunologist Sarah Mundt and her team are investigating how harmful immune cells are able to migrate into the central nervous system.

The central nervous system, composed of the brain and the spinal cord, is our body’s control center. It regulates numerous vital functions such as respiration and the interplay between organs, as well as muscular coordination and our sensory organs. This important switchboard needs especially good defenses against malignant invaders like viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. The central nervous system lies behind the almost impenetrable blood-brain barrier, where it is protected like a safe inside a Swiss bank. The blood-brain barrier shields the brain from pathogens and toxins, but also from one’s own antibodies and immune cells. Numerous turnstiles and security guards regulate what gains entry into the central nervous system. Everything depends on the utmost precision because any immune cells that erroneously get waved through can trigger autoimmune reactions – immune responses that attack the body’s own tissues. Autoimmune reactions in the brain can cause serious harm and can severely impair thinking and memory, for example.

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