Overview

Mayo Clinic is forging a new path. As our experts continue to define the underlying autoimmune mechanisms that drive a host of neurological conditions including multiple sclerosis, we are diagnosing conditions more accurately and earlier, discovering new targets for treatment, developing more effective therapies, and finding first-time cures.

This progress marks a turning point in the way we confront many neurological conditions, and the Center for Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmune Neurology at Mayo Clinic is leading the field.

The Center for Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmune Neurology is the premier institution for research and patient care in autoimmune neurological disorders. While seeing more than 3,500 adults and children with these conditions each year, the center has made groundbreaking progress on multiple sclerosis (MS), neuromyelitis optica, autoimmune encephalitis and other neurological conditions.

Among our accomplishments:

  • Identifying four distinct types of MS lesions that differ among individual patients. We now study these differences through the MS Lesion Project, a tissue database at Mayo Clinic with samples from more than 700 patients. Understanding what causes these lesions — for example, an autoimmune response or genetic factors — has major therapeutic implications.
  • Developing natural human antibodies that promote remyelination and neural repair, healing the loss of myelin sheath around the nerves or the nerve itself.
  • Pioneering the use of plasma exchange therapy for the treatment of acute attacks of MS and neuromyelitis optica.
  • Establishing the Autoimmune Neurology Clinic in 2006, making it the first of its kind in the United States. The clinic provides state-of-the-art approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune neurological disorders, including epilepsy, dementia and movement disorders.
  • Discovering the anti-aquaporin 4 antibody, the first diagnostic biomarker for any MS-like illness. The discovery that patients with neuromyelitis optica have an autoantibody that targets a water channel in astrocytes, a type of nerve cell in the brain, has changed the way we think about the development of demyelinating diseases and has led to novel treatments, some of which are in phase III clinical trials.
  • Establishing the Neuroimmunology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic to test a diverse array of neural antibodies on blood samples from more than 150,000 patients.
  • Discovering and classifying autoimmune epilepsy and autoimmune dementia, and developing new diagnosis and treatment approaches for both.
  • Identifying the role of a unique population of immune cells involved in the damage of nerve fibers (axons) that have lost their myelin sheath and discovering the mechanisms underlying such injury. This discovery may ultimately provide a strategy for protecting axons and preserving neurological function in patients with MS.
  • Becoming designated as one of six Pediatric MS Centers of Excellence by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Autoimmune neurology is a rapidly evolving subspecialty driven by the discovery that the immune system can target virtually any structure within the central or peripheral nervous system. These conditions manifest as disorders previously thought to be independent and unrelated — some well-known, such as MS, and others so rare that only a handful of known patients with these conditions exist in the world.

While the subspecialty stretches far beyond multiple sclerosis, investigators in the Center for Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmune Neurology apply newfound knowledge of these disorders to advance neurological research. This continuous loop of discovery and application increases our ability to treat patients with a wide variety of autoimmune and demyelinating diseases, which are increasingly recognized as treatable and reversible.

Center leadership

The director of the Center for Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmune Neurology is Mayo Clinic neurologist Sean J. Pittock, M.D.

Forward-facing research and education

The center's research programs and labs engage in rigorous efforts to advance discoveries that improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders.

With a keen eye toward creating a solid foundation of research and building the way for future success, the center operates educational programs that continuously groom the talents of new investigators.

World-class physician-scientists. A commitment to innovation and discovery. Dedication to comprehensive patient care. The Center for Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmune Neurology at Mayo Clinic is pioneering achievements in neurological disorders.