Molecular mimicry between neurons and an intracerebral pathogen induces a CD8 T cell-mediated autoimmune disease.


To identify basic mechanisms of how infections may induce a neuron- specific autoimmune response, we generated mice expressing OVA as neuronal autoantigen under control of the neuron-specific enolase promoter (NSE-OVA mice). Intracerebral, but not systemic, infection with attenuated Listeria monocytogenes-secreting OVA induced an atactic- paretic neurological syndrome in NSE-OVA mice after bacterial clearance from the brain, whereas wild-type mice remained healthy. Immunization with attenuated Listeria monocytogenes-secreting OVA before intracerebral infection strongly increased the number of intracerebral OVA-specific CD8 T cells aggravating neurological disease. T cell depletion and adoptive transfer experiments identified CD8 T cells as decisive mediators of the autoimmune disease. Importantly, NSE-OVA mice having received OVA- specific TCR transgenic CD8 T cells developed an accelerated, more severe, and extended neurological disease. Adoptively transferred pathogenic CD8 T cells specifically homed to OVA-expressing MHC class I(+) neurons and, corresponding to the clinical symptoms, approximately 30% of neurons in the anterior horn of the spinal cord became apoptotic. Thus, molecular mimicry between a pathogen and neurons can induce a CD8 T cell-mediated neurological disease, with its severity being influenced by the frequency of specific CD8 T cells, and its induction, but not its symptomatic phase, requiring the intracerebral presence of the pathogen.

J Immunol