Congratulations to Michael Kovac, Recipient of an NIH F30 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award

Michael Kovacs was awarded an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (F30) from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases in June of 2021. Michael joined Dr. Tajie Harris’s lab in 2018 with the desire to improve our understanding of how the immune system detects and responds to infection of the brain. HIs work focused on the role that the newly described meningeal lymphatic system plays in this process. Previous studies had shown that meningeal lymphatic vessels transport components of cerebrospinal fluid from the central nervous system (CNS) to extracranial lymph nodes. Michael tested the hypothesis that meningeal lymphatic drainage promotes T cell responses against brain-derived microbial antigen. Using the model organism Toxoplasma gondii, an intracellular parasite that establishes chronic infection of the brain in a wide range of mammalian hosts (including humans), he discovered that central nervous system (CNS) lymphatic drainage promotes robust parasite-specific T cell responses in the periphery but remains dispensable for the host-protective T cell responses in the brain. His findings suggest that compensation from other sites of peripheral T cell activation help maintain T cell responses in the brain, independent of brain antigen drainage. His work provides novel insight into the function and limitations of CNS lymphatic drainage during infection and has important implications for various neuroinflammatory conditions, including brain cancer and CNS autoimmunity. When asked what motivated him to pursue this research, Michael noted that neurologic diseases can be quite debilitating and often lack effective treatment options. In the last several decades, it has emerged that the immune system interacts with the central nervous system in unprecedented ways. Investigating these processes is likely to reveal new approaches to medical interventions for cancer, stroke, infection, and autoimmune disease. For Michael, this fact is motivation enough. He is committed to helping patients as a clinician investigator and he plans on pursuing his clinical training as an infectious diseases specialist or oncologist. He plans to continue to study the relationship between the brain and immune system in order to find new ways to approach the treatment of neuroinflammatory diseases.