Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that is initiated when self-reactive T cells enter the brain and become locally activated after encountering their specific nervous antigens. When and where the disease-relevant antigen encounters occur is unclear. Here we combined fluorescently labeled nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) with histone protein H2B to create a broadly applicable molecular sensor for intravital imaging of T cell activation. In experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, an animal model for multiple sclerosis, we report that effector T cells entering the CNS become activated after short contacts with leptomeningeal phagocytes. During established disease, the activation process is extended to the depth of the CNS parenchyma, where the cells form contacts with microglia and recruited phagocytes. We show that it is the activation processes during the preclinical phase rather than during established disease that are essential for the intensity and duration of the disease bout.
Current concepts attribute an early and central role for auto-aggressive, myelin-specific T-lymphocytes in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis. This view emerged from immunological and pathological findings in experimental autoimmune encephalitis, an animal model characterised by pathological lesions closely resembling the ones found in multiple sclerosis. Furthermore, therapeutic strategies targeting the functions of these encephalitogenic T cells which attenuate their pathogenicity such as glatiramer acetate or anti-VLA4 antibody treatments represent proven approaches in multiple sclerosis. Nonetheless, all therapies evaluated to date either insufficiently dampen down inflammation or completely block immune processes. For this reason, there is a need to identify new therapeutic targets. We have employed live intravital two-photon microscopy to learn more about the behaviour of T cells during the preclinical phase of EAE, when T cells acquire the properties required to invade their target organ. Furthermore, we were able to identify an unexpected locomotive behaviour of T cells at the blood-brain barrier, which occurs immediately before diapedesis and the induction of paralytic disease. Such studies might open new avenues for the treatment of CNS autoimmune diseases. Multiple sclerosis is considered to be an autoimmune disease in which self-reactive T cells enter the central nervous system (CNS) and create an inflammatory milieu that destroys myelin and neurons. Immunomodulatory strategies for the treatment of multiple sclerosis target this process by attempting to inactivate these auto-aggressive T cells. However, so far, these strategies have failed to extinguish disease activity completely. For this reason, there is a need to understand in more detail the mechanisms by which T cells become encephalitogenic, how they enter the nervous system, and what the signals are that guide them along this path. If these processes could be better understood, it may be possible to design more effective and specific therapies for multiple sclerosis. This article will give a brief overview about our recent findings obtained using intravital imaging of autoaggressive effector T cells in an experimental model of multiple sclerosis. This new technological approach might help to fill some gaps in the understanding of autoimmune pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis.
The tissues of the central nervous system are effectively shielded from the blood circulation by specialized vessels that are impermeable not only to cells, but also to most macromolecules circulating in the blood. Despite this seemingly absolute seclusion, central nervous system tissues are subject to immune surveillance and are vulnerable to autoimmune attacks. Using intravital two-photon imaging in a Lewis rat model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, here we present in real-time the interactive processes between effector T cells and cerebral structures from their first arrival to manifest autoimmune disease. We observed that incoming effector T cells successively scanned three planes. The T cells got arrested to leptomeningeal vessels and immediately monitored the luminal surface, crawling preferentially against the blood flow. After diapedesis, the cells continued their scan on the abluminal vascular surface and the underlying leptomeningeal (pial) membrane. There, the T cells encountered phagocytes that effectively present antigens, foreign as well as myelin proteins. These contacts stimulated the effector T cells to produce pro-inflammatory mediators, and provided a trigger to tissue invasion and the formation of inflammatory infiltrations.
The blood–brain barrier (BBB) and the environment of the central nervous system (CNS) guard the nervous tissue from peripheral immune cells. In the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis, myelin-reactive T-cell blasts are thought to transgress the BBB and create a pro-inflammatory environment in the CNS, thereby making possible a second autoimmune attack that starts from the leptomeningeal vessels and progresses into the parenchyma. Using a Lewis rat model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, we show here that contrary to the expectations of this concept, T-cell blasts do not efficiently enter the CNS and are not required to prepare the BBB for immune-cell recruitment. Instead, intravenously transferred T-cell blasts gain the capacity to enter the CNS after residing transiently within the lung tissues. Inside the lung tissues, they move along and within the airways to bronchus-associated lymphoid tissues and lung-draining mediastinal lymph nodes before they enter the blood circulation from where they reach the CNS. Effector T cells transferred directly into the airways showed a similar migratory pattern and retained their full pathogenicity. On their way the T cells fundamentally reprogrammed their gene-expression profile, characterized by downregulation of their activation program and upregulation of cellular locomotion molecules together with chemokine and adhesion receptors. The adhesion receptors include ninjurin 1, which participates in T-cell intravascular crawling on cerebral blood vessels. We detected that the lung constitutes a niche not only for activated T cells but also for resting myelin-reactive memory T cells. After local stimulation in the lung, these cells strongly proliferate and, after assuming migratory properties, enter the CNS and induce paralytic disease. The lung could therefore contribute to the activation of potentially autoaggressive T cells and their transition to a migratory mode as a prerequisite to entering their target tissues and inducing autoimmune disease.
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