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J Immunol. 2001 Feb 15;166(4):2717-26.

Brain dendritic cells and macrophages/microglia in central nervous system inflammation.

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Institute for Medical Microbiology and Virology, Heinrich Heine University, Duesseldorf, Germany.


Microglia subpopulations were studied in mouse experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis and toxoplasmic encephalitis. CNS inflammation was associated with the proliferation of CD11b(+) brain cells that exhibited the dendritic cell (DC) marker CD11c. These cells constituted up to 30% of the total CD11b(+) brain cell population. In both diseases CD11c(+) brain cells displayed the surface phenotype of myeloid DC and resided at perivascular and intraparenchymatic inflammatory sites. By lacking prominent phagocytic organelles, CD11c(+) cells from inflamed brain proved distinct from other microglia, but strikingly resembled bone marrow-derived DC and thus were identified as DC. This brain DC population comprised cells strongly secreting IL-12p70, whereas coisolated CD11c(-) microglia/brain macrophages predominantly produced TNF-alpha, GM-CSF, and NO. In comparison, the DC were more potent stimulators of naive or allogeneic T cell proliferation. Both DC and CD11c(-) microglia/macrophages from inflamed brain primed naive T cells from DO11.10 TCR transgenic mice for production of Th1 cytokines IFN-gamma and IL-2. Resting microglia that had been purified from normal adult brain generated immature DC upon exposure to GM-CSF, while CD40 ligation triggered terminal maturation. Consistently, a functional maturation of brain DC was observed to occur following the onset of encephalitis. In conclusion, these findings indicate that in addition to inflammatory macrophage-like brain cells, intraparenchymatical DC exist in autoimmune and infectious encephalitis. These DC functionally mature upon disease onset and can differentiate from resident microglia. Their emergence, maturation, and prolonged activity within the brain might contribute to the chronicity of intracerebral Th1 responses.

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