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

40 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

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by Award Number R01 NS-038836 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding agency had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


  • Brain
  • MCMV
  • Microglia
  • T-cells


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