Multiple Sclerosis Research Group

The primary objective of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Group is to discover new insights into the cause of multiple sclerosis by conducting immunological, virological, biochemical, clinical and genetic research, with the ultimate goal of preventing and curing the disease. 

Scientists within our research group are also involved in collaborative projects with researchers from other universities and research institutes, including QIMR Berghofer, Griffith University, The University of Melbourne, University of Tasmania and Australian National University.

The group is based within the Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland, at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital and is closely affiliated with the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic in the Department of Neurology at the RBWH.

Group Leader

Clinical Neurologists

Clinical Research Nurses

  • Mrs Nanette Douglas
  • Mrs Gem Mackenroth

Laboratory Research Staff

MS research

The primary objective of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Group is to discover new insights into the cause of multiple sclerosis by conducting immunological, virological, biochemical, clinical and genetic research, with the ultimate goal of preventing and curing the disease. In particular, our research focuses on: (1) the role of autoreactive T cells and autoantibodies in mediating immune attack on the brain; and (2) the role of Epstein-Barr virus in initiating and sustaining this attack.

A new paradigm for chronic autoimmune diseases 

Professor Michael Pender has proposed a new paradigm for human chronic autoimmune diseases based on infection of autoreactive B cells with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) (Pender 2012).

This paradigm is a further development of the EBV-infected autoreactive B cell hypothesis of autoimmunity he proposed in 2003 (Pender 2003). In this paradigm a genetically determined quantitative deficiency of the cytotoxic CD8+ T cells that normally keep EBV infection under tight control allows EBV-infected autoreactive B cells to accumulate in the target organ where they promote autoimmune attack through the production of pathogenic autoantibodies and provision of costimulatory survival signals to autoreactive T cells which would otherwise die in the target organ by activation-induced apoptosis.

Autoimmunity is postulated to evolve in the following steps: 1) CD8+ T cell deficiency; 2) primary EBV infection; 3) decreased CD8+ T cell control of EBV; 4) increased EBV load and increased anti-EBV antibodies; 5) EBV infection in the target organ; 6) clonal expansion of EBV-infected autoreactive B cells in the target organ; 7) infiltration of autoreactive T cells into the target organ; and 8) development of ectopic lymphoid follicles in the target organ (Figure 1).

It is also proposed that deprivation of sunlight and vitamin D at higher latitudes facilitates the development of autoimmune diseases by aggravating the CD8+ T cell deficiency and thereby further impairing control of EBV.

The hypothesis makes predictions which can be tested, including the prevention and successful treatment of chronic autoimmune diseases by controlling EBV infection.

Steps to autoimmunity
Figure 1: Steps to autoimmunity (From Pender 2012).


Pender MP (2012) CD8+ T-cell deficiency, Epstein-Barr virus infection, vitamin D deficiency and steps to autoimmunity: a unifying hypothesis. Autoimmune Diseases 2012:189096.

Pender MP (2003) Infection of autoreactive B lymphocytes with EBV, causing chronic autoimmune diseases. Trends in Immunology 24:584-588.

The Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Clinic in the Department of Neurology at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital provides a freecall (1800 phone) support and information service for Queensland and northern New South Wales. This telephone service is available for anyone to call and speak to the MS Clinic nurses regarding medical information and help in the management of medical and MS symptoms. Calls are frequently received from general practitioners, neurologists and other health professionals for advice on patient care. Patients may subsequently be scheduled an appointment to attend the MS Clinic to be assessed by the neurologist and the MS Clinic team. Subsidized travel between regional and remote areas is organized so that the person with MS has access to expert investigations and management at the MS Clinic.

The MS Clinic is closely affiliated with MS Queensland.

MS Clinic contact details

Freecall: 1800 676 547
Tel: +61 7 3365 5361
Fax: +61 7 3636 7675

Professor Michael Pender
Professor of Medicine
Level 9, Health Sciences Building
Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital
Herston Queensland 4029
Phone: +61 7 3365 5132
Email Address:

Peter Csurhes
Research Scientist
Level 4, The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research
Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital,
Herston Queensland 4029​
Phone: +61 7 3346 6019​
Email Address:

Kaye Hooper
Manager and Clinical Nurse Consultant, MS Clinic, RBWH
Department of Neurology
Level 7, Ned Hanlon Building
Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital
Herston Queensland 4029​
Phone: +61 7 3365 5361​
Email Address:

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