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Keywords:

  • autoimmune T cells;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • CD4+CD25+ naturally occurring regulatory T cells;
  • mental disorders;
  • myelin basic protein

Abstract

Peripheral cellular immunity was recently shown to play a critical role in brain plasticity and performance. The antigenic specificity of the participating T cells, however, was not investigated, and nor was their relevance to psychological stress. Here we show, using a mouse model, that adaptive immunity mitigates maladaptation to the acute psychological stress known to trigger abnormal behaviors reminiscent of human post-traumatic stress disorder. Assessment of behavioral adaptation (measured by the acoustic startle response and avoidance behavior) in mice after their exposure to predator odor revealed that maladaptation was several times more prevalent in T cell-deficient mice than in their wild-type counterparts. A single population of T cells reactive to central nervous system (CNS)-associated self-protein was sufficient to endow immune-deficient mice with the ability to withstand the psychological stress. Naturally occurring CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells were found to suppress this endogenous anti-stress attribute. These findings suggest that T cells specific to abundantly expressed CNS antigens are responsible for brain tissue homeostasis and help the individual to cope with stressful life episodes. They might also point the way to development of immune-based therapies for mental disorders, based either on up-regulation of T cells that partially cross-react with self-antigens or on weakening of the activity of regulatory T cells. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol, 2006