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Historic HintsGNI and AINI: promoters of the growth of neuroimmunology at a national and international level.
The end of the 70’s and the beginning of the 80’s represented the birth of neuroimmunology, a scientific field that has grown rapidly and constantly thanks to the immunological research progress, to the application of this basic knowledge to the neurological pathologies and to the growing understanding of the mechanisms through which the nervous system faces the inflammatory stimulus and tries to protect itself or to repair the damaged components. In this context, Italian neuroimmunology has had a foreground role.
In 1982, the first congress of the International Society of Neuroimmunology, ISNI (www.isniweb.org) was organised in Italy, in Stresa by the Lago Maggiore, by Prof. Peter O. Behan (United Kingdom) and by Prof. Federico Spreafico (Italy); approximately 150 researchers took part, a relatively small group but bound to grow quickly.
The Italian Group of Neuroimmunology (GNI) was born in 1988 as a multidisciplinary study group, capable of promoting discussion and collaboration among the many researchers who were interested in this emerging field. The founders of the GNI were a big group of neurologists and immunologists, coordinated by Giuseppe Tridente, among which Bruno Tavolato, Paolo Livrea, Nicolò Rizzuto, Marisa Marrosu and many others. In 1989, Paolo Panerai organised the first GNI scientific meeting in Milan. From that moment, the meetings were held annually in different venues and had a determining role in spreading the awareness that the Italian scientific community was establishing itself in the neuroimmunology field.
The Italian Association of Neuroimmunology (AINI) was established several years later, in 1998, and Lina Matera became its President. During the meeting organized by Prof. Domenico Gambi in Chieti, at the end of October 1998, the Steering Committee was elected; Marisa Marrosu was elected President and Gianvito Martino Secretary, together with six counsellors. The main objective was to give life to a structure which would promote both research activities and didactic initiatives in the field of neuroimmunology through the commitment with researchers interested in different fields, such as neurology, immunology, biology, pharmacology, biochemistry, genetics and clinical pathology. In these ten years, the AINI, following the tradition of the GNI, has had a fundamental role in promoting the scientific and cultural growth of neuroimmunology in Italy, as is witnessed by the increased number of members, which is almost 280 today, mostly young researchers and by the growing participation to the yearly congress.
Among the activities promoted by AINI, besides the annual congress, we would like to underline the organization of theoretical-practical courses and a Neuroimmunology Residential Course which is held yearly in Bergamo and the collective commitment, lead by Francesco Lolli and Diego Franciotta, to optimise the procedures and methods used in the neuroimmunology labs (documents available at the website www.aini.it). During these years, AINI has had close relationships with analogue associations and scientific societies in Italy and abroad, promoting scientific collaboration and cultural exchanges. Since 2001, Francesca Aloisi and Gianvito Martino represent Italy in the ISNI’s International Advisory Board. In 2004, AINI organized the 7th ISNI Congress in Venice, which had the outstanding participation of 1.200 participants and the presentation of over 700 scientific abstracts (the proceedings of the Congress were published in J Neuroimmunol, 2005;162:5-11). From the year 2000, Gianvito Martino’s full involvement in the European School of Neuroimmunology, ESNI (www.esni.org) has been the engine for the growth of this discipline at a European level and a further stimulus for the participation of young neuroimmunologists to international events.
The subjects discussed in conferences, in the oral and poster sessions of annual congresses of the GNI annual congresses first and then AINI’s, have mirrored the main interests of the research carried out by Italian neuroimmunologists in the past 30 years. The study of the cerebrospinal fluid and the research of self antibodies in the neuroinflammatory diseases, particularly in multiple sclerosis, have been central in the 80’s, whereas the following ten years featured a growing interest in the molecular and cellular basis of the interaction between the nervous and immune systems, the cytokinetic circuits and the characterization of self-reactive T lymphocytes in the inflammatory diseases of the nervous system and the neuromuscular junction. Most recently, interest has grown in the study of experimental models, of new sub populations of lymphocytes, of innate immunity, of stem cells biology, interactions between genetic factors and infecting agents in the development of neuroinflammatory diseases and in the pre-clinical application of gene and cell therapies.
AINI congresses have been and still are very stimulating events for communication and exchange of new ideas between researches of different generations. In the last years, the growing participation of foreign speakers has represented the biggest stimulus to use English as the official language of the course, a challenge that our younger members have faced successfully. The assignment of travel grants for the participation to national and international congresses and courses and the prices awarded as a recognition for the contribution to high level research are part of the concrete support that AINI provides to young members whose growth is strongly linked to the future of neuroimmunological research in Italy.
Memories of the GNI and the AINI
We have asked Professors Giuseppe Tridente, Bruno Tavolato, Lina Matera and Marisa Marrosu, who enthusiastically lead the GNI first and then the AINI to share their memories with us. We have received four precious testimonies which we are publishing here below so that the youngest are aware of the spirit, the commitment and the hopes that supported the birth and the growth of neuroimmunology in Italy. We thank them for this further contribution.
To these memories, we have added those of Prof. Pasquale Annunziata, organizer of the first National Workshop on Clinical Neuroimmunology, which took place in 1987.Prof. Giuseppe Tridente – Università di Verona/GNI Coordinator
The proposal of establishing a National Group of Neuroimmunology (GNI) was born in Turin, during the Turin Medical Days, in the springtime of 1987, on the occasion of a Symposium on Neuroimmunology to which I had been invited. Before the Symposium, while discussing with some neurologists who were particularly interested in this subject, Prof. Terziani told me: “you immunologists should do more for us”. And then something like “the brain blood barrier is not sufficient to keep you aside!”. I answered his invitation by exposing the idea which I had been considering for some time. At the end of the meeting, Prof. Terziani himself proposed the institutional challenge to the audience. The stimulus was effective. During the following months, Prof. Bergamini presented it to the Society of Neurology and I presented it to the Immunology and Immunopathology Societies. In January 1988, the GNI was born in Verona and a first census of the researchers interested in the initiative was made. The first scientific meeting was organized in 1989 in Milan by Prof. Panerai and then yearly in other venues, until the birth of AINI. The first census of the Group members was registered with 51 Operational Units, of which 21 were neurological, 15 were basic research units, and the rest were multi-disciplinary. The overall Task Force those years was made up of 74 neurologists, 63 immunologists, 34 biologists, 22 physiologists, 11 endocrinologists, 10 pathologists and 3 psychiatrists.
Prof. Bruno Tavolato – Università di Padova/GNI Coordinator
The Neuroimmunology Group was born out of the interest of some (young at the time) neurologists and immunologists in some diseases, particularly multiple sclerosis. If I had to say what was the most aggregating moment during those years, that would have been the development of the cerebrospinal fluid (pre-magnetic resonance imaging) as a diagnostic and physiopathologic element in the study of multiple sclerosis. As Marisa recalls, those informal discussions on what should be done for patients were really friendly and very useful. My wish for the AINI is to keep the innovation spirit, the enthusiasm and the scientific curiosity, which are the real engine for the Society. I know well that, without resources, research is purely a foolish ambition nowadays, nonetheless I am certain that the will of researching, out of merely scientific curiosity, comes before the resources.
Prof.ssa Lina Matera – Università di Torino/AINI President (1998)
AINI is ten years old, but it looks older. It is older. The unseen years are those of its long gestation. My memories are about part of this period, which witnessed my moving from Tumor Immunology to Neuroimmunology. In the 80’s, two researchers presented surprising evidence: Edwin Blalock showed that some cells in the immune system produced hormones and Ivan Berczi showed that adenohypophysis is important for anti-tumor defence. To support the experiments by Berczi, in a following work published by Science, the target of the Neuro-Endocrine System/Immune System network were the Natural Killer lymphocytes (NK) the effectors of the anti-tumoral response. Our group showed that the NK cells express receptors for prolactin and, during the following years, that the latter works as an autocrine factor for these cells. In the international congress in Zagreb in 1986, where I presented the data in a Neuroimmunology session, I met Tridente. I was curious and willing to know more about the establishment of the GNI. My curiosity did not find an answer then and Neuroimmunomodulation remained a never-defined space. The group became an Association (in Milan, I met with Nobile-Orazio and Mantegazza at a notary’s office –I’m forgetting someone-, it was a rainy morning). The demyelinating diseases as the dominant subject attracted funds and great names in the field of immunology to the AINI congresses, which became more and more prestigious, more and more important. All this favoured the cohesion between groups lead by talented youngsters. The research of new antigenic molecules as a target for anti-tumor therapies has provided me with a subject detour and has imposed some distance between myself and the group. But I still see the AINI as the god Janus, with the two faces of Autoimmunity and Neuroimmunomodulation. Today’s AINI’s researchers have taken important scientific steps: one among all is the observation of the relationship between infections and autoimmunity in the demyelinating diseases, as has already been documented in other pathologies. And how hormones produced by the neuroendocrine system, or under its control, can influence the course of this pathology through pro-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic signals. The threads laid by the GNI did not fall, but they entered a pool of knowledge which, at the end of a pathway that has seen institutional and chronographic alternations, remain the cultural and human assets of the AINI. And those can be lifted again at any moment.
Prof.ssa Marisa Marrosu – Università di Cagliari/AINI President (1998-2003)
At the beginning, there was the GNI.
Up to 1998, the present AINI was actually a “working group”. I remember that every year during the meetings, the same question came up punctually: should we remain as we are or should we become an association? Obviously, there were at least two opinions, and thanks to the supporters of the “the least cages we have, the better we are”, we lived in a sort of free park for 9 years. Then, in 1998, the turnaround, strongly defended most of all by Gianvito Martino and myself, who envisioned the need to formalise a working group with its own articles, which would allow not only to have national and international recognition, thus making the group visible to all, but also to access funding in a clear and regulated way.
During those years, I saw a nice group of youngsters grow up scientifically. Some of them are no longer young chronologically (but not mentally) but have become senior (it would be better to use the word magister, in its most noble Latin meaning), each of them creating a new group of young pupils and contributing to spreading high-quality Italian research in the world. For this reason, I feel proud and moved when I think that, for a very small part, I can have somehow contributed to the overall growth of the AINI.
Quite recently, some people have reproached me about my absence from the AINI in the past years. Mostly, this has been determined by the fact that my research lines have very much moved away from neuroimmunology, therefore I felt culturally out of place and, out of intellectual honesty, I have backed up. This does not mean that my appreciation and affection for many people that still continue, more and more actively, to be a part of the AINI have changed the least. Let’s consider these parallel life choices that have crossed in the past and may cross again in the future.
With great affection and great appreciation
Pasquale Annunziata – Università di Siena
The origins of the Italian Group of Neuroimmunology
One fundamental part of the neuroimmunological research in Italy doubtlessly originated within the field of clinical Neuroimmunology and, in particular, in some neurological “Schools”, such as those of Rome Cattolica, Padova, Florence, Turin, Siena, Cagliari and Bari. Upon these basis, and in agreement with some friends from these “schools”, we decided to host a meeting with all or most members of the national clinical Neuroimmunology in Siena. I therefore organised what would have become the first National Workshop with the title “Clinical Neuroimmunology Nowadays: reality and perspective”, which was held from 24 to 26 September 1987 in the Renaissance halls at the Certosa in Pontignano. Among others, the “historic heads” of those schools participated to the meeting: Giorgio Macchi, Giancarlo Guazzi, Luigi Amaducci, Niccolò Rizzuto, Bruno Tavolato and some of those who were still “young savant” of clinical Neuroimmunology at the time, such as Paolo Gallo, Edoardo Nobile Orazio, Vincenzo Silani, Luca Massacesi, Angelo Massaro, Antonino Leonardi and myself. The high scientific level of the workshop was further underlined by some international guests such as Barry Arnason from the University of Chicago, Adriano Fontana from the University of Zurich and Ciaran Regan from the University of Dublin. I gathered many presentations which were published by Piccin with the title “Clinical Neuroimmunology Nowadays”, which is probably the first national publication of a neuroimmunology meeting. I think it was then that the need to give an organisational shape to the Italian Neuroimmunology “critical mass” was brought up, as it had only been present until that time as a side subject in the various congresses of the Italian Society of Neurology and the Neuropathology Section. It was only the year after when this idea became a fact with the organization of the First Meeting of the National Group of Neuroimmunology. The Certosa in Pontignano (Siena), in September 1996 was still the venue of the VII Congress of this well settled Group, which took the organizational structure of the Society two years later.