Mechanisms of IFN-gamma-mediated Resistance against Development of Toxoplasmic Encephalitis


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Virginia Tech


Toxoplasma gondii, an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite, establishes a latent, chronic infection by forming cysts preferentially in the brain after replication of tachyzoites in various organs during the acute stage of infection. Chronic infection with T. gondii is one of the most common parasitic diseases in humans. The immune system is required for maintaining the latency of chronic infection. Reactivation of infection can occur in immunocompromised individuals, such as AIDS patients, which results in the development of life-threatening toxoplasmic encephalitis (TE). IFN-gamma-dependent, cell mediated immune responses play an essential role in preventing the reactivation of chronic infection of T. gondii in the brain. In my dissertation study, we examined the mechanisms of IFN-gamma-mediated prevention of TE by using models of reactivation of chronic infection in BALB/c mice. This strain of mouse is genetically resistant to T. gondii infection and establishes a latent chronic infection as do immunocompetent humans, and therefore provides an excellet model for this purpose.

Our laboratory previously demonstrated that both T cells and IFN-gamma-producing non-T cells are required for genetic resistance of BALB/c mice against development of TE. However, the function of T cells required for the resistance is still unclear. Therefore, in the present study, we examined whether IFN-gamma production or perforin-mediated cytotoxicity of T cells play an important role in their protective activity against TE. Immune T cells were obtained from infected IFN-gamma-knockout (IFN-g-/-), perforin-knockout (PO), and wild-type (WT) BALB/c mice, and transferred into infected, sulfadiazine-treated athymic nude mice which lack T cells but have IFN-gamma-producing non-T cells. Control nude mice that had not received any T cells developed severe TE due to reactivation of infection and died after discontinuation of sulfadiazine treatment. Animals that had received immune T cells from either PO or WT mice did not develop TE and survived. In contrast, nude mice that had received immune T cells from IFN-gamma-/- mice developed severe TE and died as early as control nude mice. T cells obtained from spleens of the animals that had received either PO or WT T cells both produced large amounts of IFN-gamma following stimulation with T. gondii antigens in vitro. In addition, the amounts of IFN-gamma mRNA expressed in the brains of PO T-cell recipients did not differ from those of WT T-cell recipients. These results indicate that IFN-gamma production, but not perforin-mediated cytotoxic activity, by T cells is required for prevention of TE in genetically resistant BALB/c mice.

In our attempt to identify a T cell population(s) that produces IFN-gamma in the brain and plays an important role for prevention of TE, we analyzed T cell receptor (TCR) Vb chain usage in T cells expressing IFN-gamma in the brains of infected BALB/c mice. We found T cells bearing TCR V beta8 chain to be the most frequent IFN-g-producing population in the brains of infected animals. To examine the role of IFN-gamma production by this T cell population for prevention of TE, V beta8+ immune T cells purified from spleens of infected BALB/c and IFN-g-/- mice were transferred into infected, sulfadiazine-treated athymic nude mice. After discontinuation of sulfadiazine treatment, control nude mice that had not received any T cells and animals that had received Vb8+ T cells from IFN-g-/- mice all died due to reactivation of infection (TE). In contrast, animals that had received the cells from WT mice survived. These results indicate that IFN-gamma production by Vb8+ T cells in the absence of any other T cell population can prevent reactivation of infection. Thus, V beta8+ T cells play a crucial role in genetic resistance of BALB/c mice to TE through their production of IFN-gamma. When V beta8+ immune T cells were divided into CD4+ and CD8+ subsets, a potent protective activity was observed only in the CD8+ subset whereas a combination of both subsets provided greater protection than did the CD8+Vb8+ population alone. These results indicate that CD8+ subset of V beta8+ T cells is a major afferent limb of IFN-gamma-mediated resistance of BALB/c mice against TE, although the CD4+ subset of the T cell population works additively or synergistically with the CD8+V beta8+ population.

T cells need to enter into the brains of infected mice to demonstrate their protective activity against TE. This migration is mediated, in part, by endothelial adhesion molecules. Since IFN-gamma is essential for preventing reactivation of chronic infection with this parasite in the brain, we examined whether this cytokine plays an important role in expression of lymphocyte and endothelial adhesion molecules and recruitment of T cells into the brain during chronic infection with T. gondii using IFN-g-/- and WT BALB/c mice. Although the number of cerebral vessels expressing intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) increased in both WT and IFN-g-/- mice following infection, there were more VCAM-1+ vessels in brains of infected WT than infected IFN-g-/- mice; in contrast, numbers of ICAM-1+ vessels did not differ between strains. We did not detect endothelial E-selectin, P-selectin, MAdCAM-1 or PNAd in any of the brains. Significantly fewer CD8+ T cells were recruited into brains of infected IFN-g-/- than WT mice. Treatment of infected IFN-g-/- mice with recombinant IFN-gamma restored the expression of VCAM-1 on their cerebral vessels and recruitment of CD8+ T cells into their brains, confirming an importance of this cytokine for up-regulation of VCAM-1 expression and CD8+ T cell trafficking. In infected WT and IFN-g-/- animals, almost all cerebral CD8+ T cells had an effector/memory phenotype (LFA-1high, CD44high and CD62Lneg) and approximately 38% were positive for a4b1 integrin (the ligand for VCAM-1). In adoptive transfer of immune spleen cells, pre-treatment of the cells with a monoclonal antibody against a4 integrin markedly inhibited recruitment of CD8+ T cells into the brain of chronically infected wild-type mice. These results indicate that IFN-g-induced expression of endothelial VCAM-1 and its binding to a4b1 integrin on CD8+ T cells is important for recruitment of the T cells into the brain during the chronic stage of T. gondii infection. Since we found strong expression of ICAM-1 on endothelia and LFA-1 on T cells in the brains of infected mice, LFA-1/ICAM-1 interaction, in addition to a4b1 integrin/VCAM-1 interaction, may also be involved in this process. As mentioned earlier, CD8+ T cells are crucial for prevention of TE in BALB/c mice. Therefore, IFN-gamma-mediated expression of VCAM-1 and its binding to a4b1 integrin for recruitment of CD8+ T cells may play a critical role in genetic resistance of BALB/c mice to development of TE.



adhesion molecules, cell infiltration, brain, Toxoplasma gondii, IFN-gamma, toxoplasmic encephalitis, T cells, T cell receptor, perforin, cytotoxicity, V beta8 T cells