• Professor Lisa Boulanger (left); undergraduate Joseph Park (center); and postdoc Carolyn Tyler (right) are studying what MHC proteins, which are classically considered part of the immune system, are doing in the brain. (Jessica McDonald/WHYY)
  • Princeton neuroscientist Lisa Boulanger (left) and undergraduate Joseph Park (right) stand beside the electron microscope that enabled them to count synapses in the mouse hippocampus. (Jessica McDonald/WHYY)

Chasing Down an Immune Protein in the Brain Could Shed Light on Autism

Fifteen years ago, the proteins that Princeton neuroscientist Lisa Boulanger studies weren’t even thought to exist in the brain. Known as major histocompatibility complex class I, or MHCI proteins, they are essential for an adaptive immune response. The thought at the time was that the brain was an area of the body where the immune system wasn't active--it would be too dangerous if the immune system attacked neurons, cells that cannot be easily replaced. Instead, Boulanger found, MHCI proteins have unexpected, different jobs in the brain, where they are critical for the establishment of normal brain circuits.

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