The anatomical and cellular basis of immune surveillance in the central nervous system

Nat Rev Immunol. 2012 Sep;12(9):623-35. doi: 10.1038/nri3265. Epub 2012 Aug 20.


The central nervous system (CNS) comprises the brain, spinal cord, optic nerves and retina, and contains post-mitotic, delicate cells. As the rigid coverings of the CNS render swelling dangerous and destructive, inflammatory reactions must be carefully controlled in CNS tissues. Nevertheless, effector immune responses that protect the host during CNS infection still occur in the CNS. Here, we describe the anatomical and cellular basis of immune surveillance in the CNS, and explain how this shapes the unique immunology of these tissues. The Review focuses principally on insights gained from the study of autoimmune responses in the CNS and to a lesser extent on models of infectious disease. Furthermore, we propose a new model to explain how antigen-specific T cell responses occur in the CNS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoimmunity
  • Central Nervous System / anatomy & histology
  • Central Nervous System / cytology
  • Central Nervous System / immunology*
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / immunology
  • Immunologic Surveillance*
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology
  • Models, Immunological
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology