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A serious public health challenge for the aging population is the increasing prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases. The 32nd Blankenese Conference, ‘Neurodegeneration: From Multiple Sclerosis to Alzheimer's Disease’, held in May 2012 (http://web.zmnh.uni-hamburg.de/blankenese_conferences/) discussed the pathogenic mechanisms, genetic risk factors and strategies in diagnosis, therapy and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases. This minireview series features as papers four highlights of the program.