Neuroimmune connections & repair lab (NIC&R)

"Unity in diversity"

Nic&R Logo Finale Nic&R Logo Finale

Prof. dr. Niels Hellings

Research focus

The complex interplay between the central nervous system and the immune system is crucial for a long and healthy life, but disturbances in this delicate balance contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. The NIC&R lab investigates fundamental mechanisms in neuroinflammation, repair and immune aging, so that novel leads for disease interventions are generated and validated.

The NIC&R lab consists of 3 teams:
NIC&R team (PI: Niels Hellings)
CBN team (PI: Bieke Broux) and
RICE team (PI: Tim Vanmierlo)

Team members & Projects

Immune aging in health & disease (MS, spinal cord injury)

Leen Slaets, PhD

Lena Fonteyn, PhD student 

Naomi Veeningen, PhD student



Remyelination strategies for demyelinating diseases (MS, CMT)

Jana Van Broeckhoven, PhD

Manon marie Jager, MsC



Herpes viruses in multiple sclerosis (collab, Prof Laurent Gillet, ULiège)

Annet Van De Waterweg Berends, PhD student



Neutrophils in multiple sclerosis (collab. Prof Sofie Struyf, KULeuven)

Mirre De Bondt, PhD student



Anti-CD6 monoclonal antibody therapy in inflammatory barrier diseases (collab. CIM. Havana)

Cynthia Gonzalez Muñoz, PhD student

Core Techniques

  • Mouse models of multiple sclerosis, demyelination and spinal cord injury
  • High dimensional flow cytometry: panels for T-cells and immune aging (FCU)
  • Primary rodent CNS cell cultures (oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, neurons) and functional assays (​brain slices, microfiber assays, etc.)
  • Primary human immune cell cultures and functional assays
  • Lentiviral vector mediated delivery of transgenes to the CNS
  • Immunopathology of post mortem brain samples

Key Publications

Full list of publications: pubmed

Hirsch-index Web

  1. Oncostatin M triggers brain inflammation by compromising blood-brain barrier integrity
    Hermans D.*, Houben E.*, Baeten P., Slaets H., Janssens K., Hoeks C., Hosseinkhani B., Duran G., Bormans S., Gowing E., Hoornaert C., Beckers L., Fung WK., Schroten H., Ishikawa H., Fraussen J., Thoelen R., de Vries HE., Kooij G., Zandee S., Prat A., Hellings N.*, Broux B.*
    Acta Neuropathol. 2022 Aug;144(2):259-281.

  2. Neutrophils: Underestimated Players in the Pathogenesis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
    De Bondt M, Hellings N*, Opdenakker G*, Struyf S*. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Jun 26;21(12):4558.

  3. Oncostatin M-induced astrocytic tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 drives remyelination
    Houben E.*, Janssens K.*, Hermans D., Van den Haute C., Schepers M., Vanmierlo T., Vandooren J., Lambrichts I., Baekelandt V., Opdenakker G., Baron W., Broux B.*, Slaets H.*, Hellings N.*
    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Mar 3;117(9):5028-5038.

  4. Cytomegalovirus infection exacerbates autoimmune mediated neuroinflammation.
    Vanheusden M, Broux B, Welten SPM, Peeters LM, Panagioti E, Van Wijmeersch B, Somers V, Stinissen P, Arens R, Hellings N.
    Sci Rep. 2017 Apr 6;7(1):663.

  5. CX3CR1 drives cytotoxic CD4+CD28- T cells into the brain of multiple sclerosis patients
    Broux B, Pannemans K, Zhang X, Markovic-Plese S, Broekmans T, Eijnde BO, Van Wijmeersch B, Somers V, Geusens P, van der Pol S, van Horssen J, Stinissen P, Hellings N. J Autoimmun. 2012; Feb;38(1):10-9.

Waarom worden we sneller ziek als we ouder zijn?
Universiteit van Vlaanderen - Podcast dr. Leen Slaets



Hoe word je 100 jaar zonder ziek te worden?
Universiteit van Vlaanderen - prof.dr. Niels Hellings



"Nagenoeg iedereen draagt het virus dat MS veroorzaakt (DS)"
Recent onderzoek in Harvard bevestigt dat je 32x meer kans loopt om 10 jaar na het oplopen van het klierkoortsvirus MS te ontwikkelen.