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J Immunol. 2011 Aug 15;187(4):1919-30. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1100736. Epub 2011 Jul 15.

Role of IL-17 and Th17 cells in herpes simplex virus-induced corneal immunopathology.

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  • 1Department of Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.


HSV-1 infection of the cornea leads to a blinding immunoinflammatory lesion of the eye termed stromal keratitis (SK). Recently, IL-17-producing CD4(+) T cells (Th17 cells) were shown to play a prominent role in many autoimmune conditions, but the role of IL-17 and/or of Th17 cells in virus immunopathology is unclear. In this study, we show that, after HSV infection of the cornea, IL-17 is upregulated in a biphasic manner with an initial peak production around day 2 postinfection and a second wave starting from day 7 postinfection with a steady increase until day 21 postinfection, a time point when clinical lesions are fully evident. Further studies demonstrated that innate cells, particularly γδ T cells, were major producers of IL-17 early after HSV infection. However, during the clinical phase of SK, the predominant source of IL-17 was Th17 cells that infiltrated the cornea only after the entry of Th1 cells. By ex vivo stimulation, the half fraction of IFN-γ-producing CD4(+) T cells (Th1 cells) were HSV specific, whereas very few Th17 cells responded to HSV stimulation. The delayed influx of Th17 cells in the cornea was attributed to the local chemokine and cytokine milieu. Finally, HSV infection of IL-17R knockout mice as well as IL-17 neutralization in wild-type mice showed diminished SK severity. In conclusion, our results show that IL-17 and Th17 cells contribute to the pathogenesis of SK, the most common cause of infectious blindness in the Western world.

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