Traumatic injuries of the central nervous system (CNS) affect millions of people worldwide, and they can lead to severely damaging consequences such as permanent disability and paralysis. Multiple factors can obstruct recovery after CNS injury. One of the most significant is the progressive neuronal death that follows the initial mechanical impact, leading to the loss of undamaged cells via a process termed secondary neurodegeneration. Efforts to define treatments that limit the spread of damage, while important, have been largely ineffectual owing to gaps in the mechanistic understanding that underlies the persisting neuronal cell death. Inflammation, with its influx of immune cells that occurs shortly after injury, has been associated with secondary neurodegeneration. However, the role of the immune system after CNS injury is far more complex. Studies have indicated that the immune response after CNS injury is detrimental, owing to immune cell-produced factors (e.g., pro-inflammatory cytokines, free radicals, neurotoxic glutamate) that worsen tissue damage. Our lab and others have also demonstrated the beneficial immune response that occurs after CNS injury, with the release of growth factors such as brain-derived growth factor (BDNF) and interleukin (IL-10) and the clearance of apoptotic and myelin debris by immune cells1–4. In this review, we first discuss the multifaceted roles of the immune system after CNS injury. We then speculate on how advancements in single-cell RNA technologies can dramatically change our understanding of the immune response, how the spinal cord meninges serve as an important site for hosting immunological processes critical for recovery, and how the origin of peripherally recruited immune cells impacts their function in the injured CNS.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101629
JournalSeminars in immunology
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • CNS injury
  • Immune response
  • Meningeal lymphatic vessels
  • Meninges
  • Neuroimmunology
  • Spinal cord injury


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