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Am J Pathol. 2009 May;174(5):1799-807. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2009.080897. Epub 2009 Apr 9.

Interferon-gamma prevents death of bystander neurons during CD8 T cell responses in the brain.

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  • 1Department of Virology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.


T cells restricted to neurotropic viruses are potentially harmful as their activity may result in the destruction of neurons. In the Borna disease virus (BDV) model, antiviral CD8 T cells entering the brain of infected mice cause neurological disease but no substantial loss of neurons unless the animals lack interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). We show here that glutamate receptor antagonists failed to prevent BDV-induced neuronal loss in IFN-gamma-deficient mice, suggesting that excitotoxicity resulting from glutamate receptor overstimulation is an unlikely explanation for the neuronal damage. Experiments with IFN-gamma-deficient mice lacking eosinophils indicated that these cells, which specifically accumulate in the infected brains of IFN-gamma-deficient mice, are not responsible for CA1 neuronal death. Interestingly, BDV-induced damage of CA1 neurons was reduced significantly in IFN-gamma-deficient mice lacking perforin, suggesting a key role for CD8 T cells in this pathological process. Specific death of hippocampal CA1 neurons could be triggered by adoptive transfer of BDV-specific CD8 T cells from IFN-gamma-deficient mice into uninfected mice that express transgene-encoded BDV antigen at high level in astrocytes. These results indicate that attack by CD8 T cells that cause the death of CA1 neurons might be directed toward regional astrocytes and that IFN-gamma protects vulnerable CA1 neurons from collateral damage resulting from exposure to potentially toxic substances generated as a result of CD8 T cell-mediated impairment of astrocyte function.

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