MHC Gene Related Effects on Microglia and Macrophages in Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis Determine the Extent of Axonal Injury

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Myelin-oligodendrocyte-glycoprotein (MOG)-induced experimental autoimmune encephalo-myelitis (EAE) in rats is a chronic inflammatory demyelinating disease of the central nervous system (CNS) strongly mimicking multiple sclerosis (MS). We determined the involvement of macrophages and microglia in the lesions of MOG-EAE in relation to different major histocompatibility complex (MHC, RT1 in rat) haplotypes. We used intra-RT1 recombinant rat strains with recombinations between the RT1a and RT1u haplotypes on the disease permissive LEW non-MHC genome. Activated microglia and macrophages were identified morphologically and by expression of ED1 and allograft inhibitory factor-1 (AIF-1), and differentiated by their morphological phenotype. White matter lesions contained more macrophages and less microglia compared to grey matter lesions. Similarly active lesions were mainly infiltrated by macrophages, while microglia were abundant in inactive demyelinated plaques. In addition, we found a highly significant genetic association between a macrophage or microglia dominated lesional phenotype, which was independent from location and activity of the lesions. This was not only the case in demyelinating plaques of chronic EAE, but also in purely inflammatory lesions of acute passive transfer EAE. Rat strains with an u-haplotype in both the Class II and the telomeric non-classical Class I region revealed inflammatory and demyelinating lesions, which were dominated by activated microglia. The a-haplotype in any of these regions was associated with macrophage dominated lesions. A comparison of lesions, exactly matched for stages of demyelinating activity in these different rat strains, showed that in spite of a similar extent of demyelination, axonal injury was significantly less in microglia compared to macrophage dominated lesions. Thus, our studies document a genetic influence of the MHC-region on the relative contribution of macrophages versus microglia in the pathogenesis of EAE.

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