Using bioinformatics to better understand the relationship between the immune system and neurodegenerative diseases

Late-onset neurodegenerative diseases, of which Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are the most prevalent, impact the lives of millions of individuals worldwide. Current treatment options only delay disease progression to a certain degree, and there is no cure.
Using bioinformatics to better understand the relationship between the immune system and neurodegenerative diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases are a result of the genes we inherit from our parents and our environmental exposures. Using computational approaches to analyze genetic information, we can develop a better understanding of the biological mechanisms at play in disease risk and progression. This knowledge can  assist future research with the goals of repurposing existing treatment options used to treat other conditions or developing new options to improve the lives of affected individuals.

Although traditionally thought of as diseases that primarily affect the brain, it is becoming clear that other biological systems in addition to the nervous system influence the development and progression of neurodegeneration. Our research is focused on exploring the links between diverse biological systems on neurodegenerative diseases. The focus of this work is on the influence of the immune system.

Computational and experimental evidence, including from our previous work, suggest that the immune system has varying degrees of involvement in disease development across several late-onset neurodegenerative diseases. The immune system has been extensively studied and many medications targeting immune mechanisms in the body have been developed. Delving deeper into the role of the immune system in the context of neurodegeneration is a promising avenue to pursue given the potential for future repurposing of treatments for immune-mediated conditions to help individuals with a neurodegenerative disease.

In our work in Communications Biology, we provide an overview of possible immune-mediated gene targets for neurodegenerative diseases. Specifically, we identify and investigate DNA regions that may influence both immune-mediated processes and neurodegenerative disease risk using recent bioinformatics tools and large-scale datasets. In our investigation of the role of immune-mediated pathways in neurodegenerative diseases, we present evidence for known relationships among genes, cell types and diseases, and we also identify new potential links, providing significant advancements in the field.  Our approach will be key to further research with the goal of downstream repurposing of existing immune therapies as treatment options for certain neurodegenerative diseases.

Through our data-driven computational study using large datasets of fine resolution, we highlight links between genomic regions and specific neurodegenerative diseases in particular cell types. This knowledge has the goal of increasing our understanding of the biological underpinnings behind neurodegeneration in relation to the immune system. We are excited by the potential of our findings to motivate further research to investigate gene targets in specific immune cell types as possible treatment options for neurodegenerative diseases.

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