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Eur J Immunol. 2000 Dec;30(12):3623-33.

MHC class I-restricted killing of neurons by virus-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes is effected through the Fas/FasL, but not the perforin pathway,.

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Department of Neuroimmunology, Max-Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Germany.


Induction of MHC class I genes in neurons of the central nervous system requires signals by pro-inflammatory cytokines, in particular IFN-gamma, and the blockade of electric activity, which is known to suppress induction of MHC related genes in a highly ordered, but unusual fashion [1], [2]. The present experiments explore the immunological function of neuronal MHC class I antigens expressed under permissive conditions. MHC class I proteins were induced in electrically silenced murine hippocampal neurons by treatment with the sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin and recombinant IFN-gamma, conditions which also resulted in the induction of Fas molecules. The MHC class I positive neurons were challenged with CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) specific for the H2-Db binding peptide GP33, a dominant epitope of the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus envelope glycoprotein, or with alloreactive CTL. Single primed neurons, attacked by GP33-specific CTL, were continuously monitored for changes in intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i), an indicator of cytotoxic damage. MHC class I-induced neurons pulsed with the GP33 peptide, but not a control peptide, showed a gradual and sustained increase in [Ca2+]i within 3 h following attack by GP33-specific CTL, while in astrocytes [Ca2+]i elevation was rapid. The slow course of the neuronal response was consistent with a delayed apoptotic killing mechanism rather than rapid granule-mediated plasma membrane lysis. Indeed, the attacked neurons bound annexin V, indicating membrane alterations preceding apoptotic cell death. In further support of apoptotic cell death, this sustained increase of [Ca2+]i levels was also observed following attack by perforin-deficient CTL, but was not detected in neurons derived from mutant lpr mice, which lack functional Fas molecules.

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