Memory T cells persisting in the brain following MCMV infection induce long-term microglial activation via interferon-γ

Manohar B. Mutnal, Shuxian Hu, Morgan R. Little, James R. Lokensgard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) brain infection stimulates microglial cell-driven proinflammatory chemokine production which precedes the presence of brain-infiltrating systemic immune cells. Here, we show that in response to MCMV brain infection, antigen-specific CD8(+) T cells migrated into the brain and persisted as long-lived memory cells. The role of these persistent T cells in the brain is unclear because most of our understanding of antimicrobial T cell responses comes from analyses of lymphoid tissue. Strikingly, memory T cells isolated from the brain exhibited an effector phenotype and produced IFN-γ upon restimulation with viral peptide. Furthermore, we observed time-dependent and long-term activation of resident microglia, indicated by chronic MHC class II upregulation and TNF-α production. The immune response in this immunologically restricted site persisted in the absence of active viral replication. Lymphocyte infiltrates were detected until 30 days post-infection (p.i.), with CD8(+) and CD4(+) T cells present at a 3:1 ratio, respectively. We then investigated the role of IFN-γ in chronic microglial activation by using IFN-γ-knockout (GKO) mice. At 30 days p.i., GKO mice demonstrated a similar phenotypic brain infiltrate when compared to wild-type mice (Wt), however, MHC class II expression on microglia isolated from these GKO mice was significantly lower compared to Wt animals. When IFN-γ producing CD8(+) T cells were reconstituted in GKO mice, MHC class II up-regulation on microglial cells was restored. Taken together, these results suggest that MCMV brain infection results in long-term persistence of antigen-specific CD8(+) T cells which produce IFN-γ and drive chronic microglial cell activation. This response was found to be dependent on IFN-γ production by viral Ag-specific T cells during the chronic phase of disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-437
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of neurovirology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Brain
  • MCMV
  • Microglia
  • T-cells


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