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Lab Invest. 1999 Feb;79(2):235-42.

Detailed in vivo analysis of interferon-gamma induced major histocompatibility complex expression in the the central nervous system: astrocytes fail to express major histocompatibility complex class I and II molecules.

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  • 1Department of Neuropharmacology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, USA.


To recognize and respond immunologically to foreign antigens, T lymphocytes require the presentation of foreign peptides by MHC molecules. To determine which cells of the central nervous system (CNS) are capable of expressing MHC molecules, we used confocal microscopy and dual immunofluorescence with cell-specific and MHC-specific antibodies to study brain sections of adult mice. We took advantage of transgenic mice that initiate CNS-specific expression of IFN-gamma at 8 weeks of age. This inflammatory cytokine is a strong inducer of MHC expression both in culture and in vivo. From this analysis, we clearly found MHC class I and II expression on endothelial, microglial, and oligodendrocyte cell types, but did not find astrocytes or neurons capable of expressing either MHC class I or II molecules under these conditions. This finding suggests that, although microglia and oligodendrocytes may participate in the antigen presentation process in the organism, we found no in vivo evidence to support the concept that astrocytes act as antigen-presenting cells.

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