There is increasing recognition that signalling between the nervous and immune systems critically controls symptoms and outcomes in many diseases. How neurons control the interactions, proportions, migration, and activities of immune cells remains poorly understood. Particularly, the communication between the neuronal cells and immune system (e.g. microglia, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and mast cells) within the brain and spinal cord critically controls symptoms and outcomes in many neuronal diseases.

Objective/mission (the vision)
We aim to advance the understandings the emerging research fields about neurons and immune cell interactions and explore cell-type specific effects of drug treatments.

Research approach (the initiative)
We are using spatial transcriptomics, flow cytometry, transgenic mouse model and pharmaceutical interventions to find cellular changes in brain and spinal cord tissues post injuries across time. We will develop a new field of research where imaging and sequencing of tissue sections are merged to generate a comprehensive understanding of systemic inflammation in space and time. We have novel mouse models that allow circulating immune cells to be spatially tracked. We will systematically deduce relevant interactions between neural signals and immune cells in an unbiased way through genetic tracking of cell migration and spatial transcriptomics, i.e. without dissociating cells from their original tissues. We have also established a single-cell toolbox that allows us to work on both fresh and frozen samples, FACS-enriched and total cell samples, cells from human and mouse.To integrate imaging and sequencing genomics data, we use deep learning approaches, with our own woftware like SpaCell and stLearn. We have also produced a range of analysis tools for single-cell data.

Impacts and applications
The research will have a high potential for both discovery and clinical applications. These include applications to dieases in both the peripheral (neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia) and central (e.g., Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, ischemia and traumatic brain injury, depression, and autism spectrum disorder).

We are collaborating strongly with A/Prof Marc Ruitenberg (SBMS), Dr Jana Vukovic (SBMS), Dr John Lee (SBMS), Dr Oliver Rawashdeh (SBMS)

Project members

Key contact

Dr Quan Nguyen

Senior Research Fellow
Institute for Molecular Bioscience