ISNI Secretary/Treasurer | Dr. Lesley Probert

Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Lesley Probert, I was born and educated in UK, and now live and work in Greece. My research focuses on understanding immune mechanisms that mediate neuroprotection, myelin repair and functional recovery with the aim of finding new potential therapeutic targets for treating neurodegenerative diseases. 

Where is your lab/team based and how many people are there?
My group is in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the Hellenic Pasteur Institute in Athens. It currently consists of two postdocs, five Ph.D students and a master’s student.

Your research program in one sentence?
Our research projects look into, 1) the participation of CNS macrophages in cortical grey matter demyelination and remyelination through the TNF system, 2) novel mechanisms of immune tolerance that protect the CNS from autoimmune disease, 3) the effects of ageing and cellular senescence on brain inflammation, demyelination and remyelination processes.

What has attracted you in neuroimmunology? And Why? (Please specify basic research and/or clinical research).
My first steps in research showed me the beauty of the (gut) neuroendocrine and nervous systems down the lens of an electron microscope during my undergraduate and PhD studies. My next steps, in Athens, introduced me to the ärchetype bad cytokine, TNF, and especially how the inappropriate production of this immune molecule in the brain of transgenic mice can trigger neuroinflammation and demyelination. This over-simplistic view of TNF was soon challenged by unexpected clinical and experimental evidence that regulated TNF production is essential for normal brain structure, function and defence, automatically making the design of TNF inhibitors much more challenging. On hindsight it seems natural that I followed up with a fascination for finding details of the neuroimmune interactions involved in brain pathology and to try to identify mechanisms that might have therapeutic significance for human disease.

What is the most exciting part of your job?
Solving riddles put in front of us by unexpected and apparently unexplainable raw data!  Data always talk, if the experiment has been performed correctly and is repeatable. After agonizing to try to understand what these results are saying by designing further experiments, reading, and multiple brainstorming sessions, the best part of this job is definitely solving one of these riddles in a team effort! The answers usually take us one step forward.

What would be your best advice for young researchers in neuroimmunology?
Keep your eye on the human situation, it helps keep your research focused and relevant.

Any area(s) of specialized expertise open for collaboration?
Our team uses molecular and genetic tools such as Cre/loxP recombination in mice with experimental models of human disease, flow cytometry, microscopy, and recently single cell transcriptomics with bioinformatics tools, to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms of pathology relevant for multiple sclerosis. The laboratory holds a repository of immune and disease mouse strains in the Transgenic Technology Unit, and research is carried out in close collaboration with the Experimental Animal Unit and the Imaging Unit of the Institute, as well as with expert external collaborators in areas of bioinformatics, pharmaceutical development and clinical studies.

If available, add any openings for Masters, PhD students, or postdoctoral/training opportunities?
Please watch the ISNI website and for any upcoming opportunities.