Neurons are postmitotic and thus irreplaceable cells of the central nervous system (CNS). Accordingly, CNS inflammation with resulting neuronal damage can have devastating consequences. We investigated molecular mediators and structural consequences of CD8(+) T lymphocyte (CTL) attack on neurons in vivo. In a viral encephalitis model in mice, disease depended on CTL-derived interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and neuronal IFN-gamma signaling. Downstream STAT1 phosphorylation and nuclear translocation in neurons were associated with dendrite and synapse loss (deafferentation). Analogous molecular and structural alterations were also found in human Rasmussen encephalitis, a CTL-mediated human autoimmune disorder of the CNS. Importantly, therapeutic intervention by IFN-gamma blocking antibody prevented neuronal deafferentation and clinical disease without reducing CTL responses or CNS infiltration. These findings identify neuronal IFN-gamma signaling as a novel target for neuroprotective interventions in CTL-mediated CNS disease.