Chronic inflammatory diseases are influenced by dysregulation of cytokines. Among them, granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) is crucial for the pathogenic function of T cells in preclinical models of autoimmunity. To study the impact of dysregulated GM-CSF expression in vivo, we generated a transgenic mouse line allowing the induction of GM-CSF expression in mature, peripheral helper T (Th) cells. Antigen-independent GM-CSF release led to the invasion of inflammatory myeloid cells into the central nervous system (CNS), which was accompanied by the spontaneous development of severe neurological deficits. CNS-invading phagocytes produced reactive oxygen species and exhibited a distinct genetic signature compared to myeloid cells invading other organs. We propose that the CNS is particularly vulnerable to the attack of monocyte-derived phagocytes and that the effector functions of GM-CSF-expanded myeloid cells are in turn guided by the tissue microenvironment.
GM-CSF is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that mediates tissue-targeted autoimmune diseases. Spath and colleagues show that excess production of GM-CSF was sufficient to induce spontaneous brain inflammation and neurological disease. GM-CSF-expanded, brain-infiltrating phagocytes produced reactive oxygen species and their genetic signature differed significantly from myeloid cells invading other organs.