Cumpston Research

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Prof Alastair Compston

Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair


Professor of Neurology         e-mail: [email protected]


Research Interests

The clinical science of demyelinating disease with programmes on the genetics of multiple sclerosis, in-vitro mechanisms of glial and axonal injury, oligodendrocyte development in the rodent and human nervous systems, and therapeutic immunology.  Clinical and experimental work is carried out in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences (Department of Neurology, Addenbrooke's Hospital, and the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair).


Recent papers

1  Hensiek AE, Sawcer SJ, Feakes R, Deans J, Mander A, Akesson E, Roxborough R, Coraddu F, Smith S, Compston DAS.  HLA-DR 15 is associated with femal gender and younger age at diagnosis in multiple sclerosis.  Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.  2002; 72: 184-7.


2  Sawcer S, Meranian M, Setakis E, Curwen V, Hensiek A, Akesson E, Coraddu F, Roxborough R, Sawcer D, Gray J, Smilie B, Deans J, Goodfellow PN, Walker N, Clayton D, Compston DAS.  A whole genome screen for linkage disequilibrium in multiple sclerosis confirms disease associations with regions previously linked to susceptibility.  Brain.  2002; 125: 1337-47.


3  Nicholas R St J, Stevens S, Wing MG, Compston DAS.  Microglia-derived IGF-2 and CNTF prevent TNFalpha induced death of mature oligodendrocytes in vitro.  Journal of Neuroimmunology.  2002; 124: 36-44.


4  Golde S, Chandran S, Brown GC, Compston DAS.  Different pathways for iNOS-mediated toxicity in vitro dependent on neuronal maturation and NMDA-receptor expression.  Journal of Neurochemistry.  2002; 82: 269-82.


5  Nicholas R, Stevens S, Wing M, Compston DAS.  Oligodendrocyte-derived stress signals can recruit microglia in vitro.  NeuroReport. 2003; 14: 1001-5.


6  Wilkins A, Majed H, Layfield R, Compston DAS, Chandran S.  Oligodendrocytes promote neuronal survival and axconal length by distinct intracellular mechanisms: a novel role for oligodendrocyte-derived glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor.  Journal of Neuroscience.  2003; 23: 4967-74.


7  Zarei M, Chadran S, Hodges JR, Compston DAS.  Cognitive presentation of multiple sclerosis: evidence for a cortical variant.  Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.  2003; 74: 872-7.


8  Hensiek AE, Roxborough R, Maranian M, Seaman S, Yeo T, Compston DAS, Sawcer SJ.  Osteopontin gene and clinical severity of multiple sclerosis.  Journal of Neurology.  2003; 250: 943-7.


My research interests focus on clinical and experimental demyelinating disease with an emphasis on multiple sclerosis - the commonest potentially disabling disease of young adults. The research group has a broad set of interests: we work on the aetiology with international collaborations in genetics involving large-scale whole genome screens for factors that confer susceptibility and influence disease progression; in neurobiology, we study interactions between glia and axons, and the potential role of human stem cells as 'medicines' for limiting and the repairing the damage; our work in therapeutic immunology has used the monoclonal antibody Campath-1H (Alemtuzimab) both to treat patients and to understand mechanisms of tissue injury that determine the clinical course of the disease.

University position

Professor and Head of Department of Clinical Neurosciences


U tube film of Prof Compston speaking on MS

2007 Charcot Award Winner - Prof Alastair Compston  


I feel very honoured, and am profoundly grateful to the many colleagues who participated in our research over the last 30 years, the patients who made much of that work possible, and Multiple Sclerosis International Federation for recognising these contributions through the 2007 Charcot Award. Professor Alastair Compston


The 2007 winner of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation’s (MSIF) prestigious biennial Charcot Award for a lifetime achievement in research into the understanding or treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) is Professor Alastair Compston.


Professor Compston was selected from an outstanding field of candidates by an international panel of experts from MSIF’s International Medical and Scientific Board, chaired by Professor Alan Thompson.


Professor Compston has made a major contribution to a number of important areas in the field of MS. He is a truly international figure who has inspired many through his research and his lecturing. He is a worthy winner of the Charcot award and richly deserves his place amongst the great contributors to the field of MS who have been honoured with this award in the past. I offer my congratulations on behalf of all the members of the International Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of MSIF. Professor Alan Thompson, of the Institute of Neurology, London


Professor Compston is professor of neurology and head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge. He received his PhD in 1979 for work on the immunogenetics of MS and his subsequent research has focused on human and experimental demyelinating disease with an emphasis on genetic epidemiology, applied neurobiology, therapeutic immunology and clinical neuroscience.


Genetic epidemiology


Early in his career, Professor Compston studied the genetic epidemiology of MS and the interplay between genes and environmental factors. With others, he characterised the class II HLA association, performed the first whole genome linkage analysis and, in 2001, headed the Genetic Analysis of Multiple Sclerosis in EuropeanS (GAMES) network that was the first to perform a full genome association screen in MS, furthering the understanding of genetic susceptibility to MS.




In the area of neurobiology and its relation to MS pathogenesis, Professor Compston’s cell culture studies on the mechanisms of injury and regeneration of oligodendrocytes (the cells responsible for producing myelin) have made a seminal contribution to the advancement of central nervous system cell repair.


Clinical Neuroscience


His interest in the clinical aspects of MS and its treatment has always been paramount. In 1987 he performed the earliest controlled trial showing the efficacy of high dose intravenous methylprednisolone (now the most widely used treatment) for treating relapses in MS. He was also a member of the 2001 International Panel that produced new diagnostic criteria for MS.


Current Research


More recently, one of Professor Compston’s major contributions has been in the area of treatment studies and the evaluation of the therapeutic efficacy of CAMPATH-1 in MS. CAMPATH-1H therapy is now in an advanced phase of clinical trial development with highly promising initial efficacy data in relapsing remitting MS.


Centre for Brain Repair

Professor Compston has been the clinical lead in the establishment and running of the highly prestigious Centre for Brain Repair in Cambridge for over ten years. Through his numerous collaborations with basic neuroscientists, he has ensured that the Centre is now one of the most important in the world in this vital research area, paramount to the development of future MS treatments.


He has mentored clinical neuroscientists such as Profs Neil Scolding & John Zajicek and Drs Stephen Sawcer, Alasdair Coles and Siddharthan Chandran who have gone on to establish their own successful, independent research groups and programmes in the MS field.


Published Papers

He is the author of over 400 papers, was instrumental in the editing and production of the two most recent editions of the most prestigious and highly regarded textbook on MS, McAlpine’s Multiple Sclerosis (1998 & 2005) and is the current editor of the neurological journal ‘Brain’.


Research Collaboration and International Recognition

Professor Compston’s innovative research has included collaboration with the NMR Research Unit at the Institute of Neurology, London. He has served on the grant panels of the UK Medical Research Council and MS Society, is a past-chairman of the Neurosciences and Mental Health panel of the Wellcome Trust (2001-3) and a past-president of the European Neurological Society (2002-3). He received the Sobek Foundation International Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research in 2002.







The PhysOrg article New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers said A drug which was developed in Cambridge and initially designed to treat a form of leukaemia has also proven effective against combating the debilitating neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS).


The study, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, has found that alemtuzumab not only stops MS from advancing in patients with early stage active relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) but may also restore lost function caused by the disease. The findings were published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.


"Alemtuzumab is the most promising experimental drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, and we are hopeful that the Phase 3 trials will confirm that it can both stabilize and allow some recovery of what had previously been assumed to be irreversible disabilities," says the principal investigator Alastair Compston, Professor of Neurology and the Head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge.


Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease which is caused by the body's immune system attacking nerve fibres and their protective insulation, the myelin sheath, in the central nervous system. This damage prevents the nerves from "firing" properly, and then leads to their destruction, resulting in physical and intellectual disabilities. Alemtuzumab works by destroying one population of white blood cell (lymphocytes) and, by shutting down the immune system, inhibits the damage to brain tissue that occurs in MS.


Alastair Compston, MBBS, Ph.D., FRCP, FRSA, FMedSci, FIBiol is Professor of Neurology and Head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge. His research focuses on the clinical science of human demyelinating disease. With others, he writes the most prestigious and highly regarded textbook on MS, McAlpine's Multiple Sclerosis.


Outside Cambridge, he contributes to the administration of academic neurology. He has received the Sobek International Research Prize (2002) and the Charcot Award (2007). He is a former president of the European Neurological Society (2001-2), president-elect of the Association of British Neurologists (from 2009) and Editor of Brain (from 2004).


Alastair coedited Brain Disease: therapeutic strategies and repair, and coauthored Multiple sclerosis,


Alastair earned his Ph.D. from the University of London in 1979 for work on the immunogenetics of MS and his subsequent research has focused on human and experimental demyelinating disease with an emphasis on genetic epidemiology, applied neurobiology, therapeutic immunology, and clinical neuroscience.