The Division of Neuroimmunology and Neurological Infections has its origin with the founding of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins. In 1969 the Department was inaugurated with 6 new faculty and 3 laboratories – the neurochemistry laboratory with Guy McKhann, the neuromuscular laboratory with Dan Drachman, and the virology laboratory with Richard Johnson, Bob Herndon and Leslie Weiner. The goal of the Virology laboratory was to develop an interdisciplinary group of investigators and create a training program primarily for postdoctoral fellows. In 1970 Diane Griffin, MD, PhD, an infectious disease specialist and immunologist; Opendra “Bill” Narayan, DVM, PhD, a veterinarian virologist; Henry McFarland, MD, a neurologist with immunology interests and experience; and Howard Lipton, MD, our first Chief Resident finishing the clinical neurology program all joined the laboratory as postdoctoral fellows. We were off at a good pace.
Early work concentrated on laboratory animal models - acute encephalitis with Sindbis virus, demyelination with mouse hepatitis virus, malformations with bluetongue and parvoviruses, and inner ear infections with a number of viruses. The best animal model for multiple sclerosis appeared to be visna in Icelandic sheep; Bill Narayan, then new on the faculty, obtained the first permit in the US to inoculate American sheep with this virus and began pathogenesis studies on the prototype lentivirus. The importance of these studies would only become evident after the emergence of HIV and AIDS.
Methods evolved in the 1970s that facilitated work on human diseases. Studies of JC virus and the pathogenesis of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy were done and the possible roles of papovaviruses in animal and human brain tumors were studied. In 1979 Richard Johnson initiated a program to study postmeasles encephalitis, a human demyelinating disease of uncertain pathogenesis largely eliminated from the US by immunization. The study was begun in Lima, Peru, with Diane Griffin and local collaborators and lasted for 10 years unraveling many of the mysteries of immunodeficiency induced by measles and the autoimmune disease of the brain that complicated 1:1000 cases of measles.
The need to expand expertise into molecular biology was met by a number of talented postdoctoral fellow and finally by adding Janice Clements PhD to the faculty. By the mid-1980s another major shift occurred with the emergence of AIDS and our recognition that HIV invaded the CNS early in infection. With unique experience in lentivirus pathogenesis in sheep and measles virus immunosuppression in humans a shift to a primary emphasis on HIV pathogenesis seemed mandated. The resulting program was built around the large clinical cohort being studied by Justin McArthur, greatly expanding the clinical commitment of the laboratory.