IFN-γ promotes transendothelial migration of CD4+ T cells across the blood-brain barrier

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Transendothelial migration (TEM) of Th1 and Th17 cells across the blood-brain barrier (BBB) has a critical role in the development of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). How cytokines produced by inflammatory Th1 and Th17 cells damage the endothelial BBB and promote transendothelial migration of immune cells into the central nervous system (CNS) during autoimmunity is not understood. We therefore investigated the effect of various cytokines on brain endothelial cells. Among the various cytokines tested, such as Th1 (IFN-γ, IL-1α, IL-1β, TNF-α, IL-12), Th2 (IL-3, IL-4, IL-6 and IL-13), Th17 (IL-17A, IL-17F, IL-21, IL-22, IL-23, GM-CSF) and Treg-specific cytokines (IL-10 and TGF-β), IFN-γ predominantly showed increased expression of ICAM-1, VCAM-1, MAdCAM-1, H2-Kb and I-Ab molecules on brain endothelial cells. Furthermore, IFN-γ induced transendothelial migration of CD4+ T cells from the apical (luminal side) to the basal side (abluminal side) of the endothelial monolayer to chemokine CCL21 in a STAT-1-dependent manner. IFN-γ also favored the transcellular route of TEM of CD4+ T cells. Multicolor immunofluorescence and confocal microscopic analysis showed that IFN-γ induced relocalization of ICAM-1, PECAM-1, ZO-1 and VE-cadherin in the endothelial cells, which affected the migration of CD4+ T cells. These findings reveal that the IFN-γ produced during inflammation could contribute towards disrupting the BBB and promoting TEM of CD4+ T cells. Our findings also indicate that strategies that interfere with the activation of CNS endothelial cells may help in controlling neuroinflammation and autoimmunity.

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