Dr Clara Ballerini PhD
Laboratory of Neuroimmunology
Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine
University of Florence
Florence, Italy

Thanks to a fellowship of the Italian Association for Multiple Sclerosis I took my first steps in Neuroimmunology at the Department of Neurological Sciences, in 1993. In this occasion I came across EAE, induced in Lewis rats, the research topic was about modified antigens and T cell response under the supervision of Marco Vergelli and Luca Massacesi; during those years I had the opportunity to visit for some months the Neuroimmunology Unit in Boston where I started to study the genetics of multiple sclerosis (e.g. investigating TCR V beta gene polymorphisms). Thereafter, during my PhD in Neuroscience, I investigated genetic susceptibility of MS and first described the HLA class II associations in continental MS Italian population together with other associated genes, participating in the growing knowledge and theory about the concept of “complex disease”. I also continued to participate in the laboratory for several preclinical studies performed on EAE. In 2001, I applied to a position for Chercheur Etranger at the INSERM that was posted on Nature Jobs, the topic of the research was the role of prion protein in immune system, I was intrigued by the possibility to investigate molecules shared among the two systems as a declination of Neuroimmunology. In France, I focused my research on the role of prion protein at the immune synapse between T cells and DCs, and on the possibility to efficiently break tolerance to PrP and delay the experimental disease in mice. During my last year in France, I thought that EAE was a good model to investigate the role of PrP in the immune system in vivo, and I performed experiments in PrP KO mice, finding that PrP confers resistance to the inflammatory reaction in the brain. Back in Italy, I spend several years exploiting the knowledge (immune synapse, DCs, neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, the experimental use of EAE in order to investigate the role of shared molecules among IS and CNS during disease) and collaborations build up in France and I started new ones, investigating inflammation in CNS by mean of cerebrospinal fluid analysis and organotypic spinal cord culture. Finally, after 5 years as researcher in Neurology, I had the opportunity to apply a position in general pathology as associate professor and it is where I am now: investigating EAE, lately to test in vivo the effects of promising nanomaterials, addressing inflammation in CNS through experiments conducted in CSF and organotypic spinal cord culture, investigating MS and the human TCR repertoire diversity and dynamics.