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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Nov 26;99(24):15620-5. Epub 2002 Nov 12.

Neuroprotective autoimmunity: naturally occurring CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells suppress the ability to withstand injury to the central nervous system.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology, The Weizmann Institute of Science, 76100 Rehovot, Israel.


The ability of rats or mice to withstand the consequences of injury to myelinated axons in the CNS was previously shown to depend on the ability to manifest a T cell-mediated protective immune response, which is amenable to boosting by myelin-specific T cells. Here we show that this ability, assessed by retinal ganglion cell survival after optic nerve injury or locomotor activity after spinal cord contusion, is decreased if the animals were immunized as neonates with myelin proteins (resulting in their nonresponsiveness as adults to myelin proteins) or injected with naturally occurring regulatory CD4(+)CD25(+) T cells immediately after the injury, and is improved by elimination of these regulatory T cells. In nude BALBc mice replenished with a splenocyte population lacking CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T cells, significantly more neurons survived after optic nerve injury than in nude mice replenished with a complete splenocyte population or in matched wild-type controls. In contrast, neuronal survival in wild-type BALBc mice injected with CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T cells immediately after injury was significantly worse than in noninjected controls. These findings suggest that the ability to cope with the sequelae of a CNS insult is affected unfavorably by nonresponsiveness to myelin self-antigens and favorably by conditions allowing rapid expression of an autoimmune response. The regulatory T cells might represent an evolutionary compromise between the need to avoid autoimmune diseases and the need for autoimmunity on alert for the purpose of tissue maintenance.

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