Microglia, a type of tissue macrophage, are the only cells in the central nervous system (CNS) parenchyma to express some major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II constitutively or to upregulate expression readily. They are thought to play a role in CD4 T cell activation in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, as well as in neurodegenerative conditions, Alzheimer's disease in particular. We show here that highly purified MHC class II+ microglia when tested directly ex vivo do indeed support an effector response by an encephalitogenic myelin basic protein-reactive CD4 T cell line from which production of the proinflammatory cytokines, interferon gamma and tumor necrosis factor, is elicited, but not interleukin (IL)-2 secretion or proliferation. After this interaction, the T cells die by apoptosis. Other nonmicroglial but CNS-associated macrophages isolated in parallel stimulate full T cell activation, including IL-2 production, proliferation, and support T cell survival. Neither CNS-derived population expresses B7.1/B7.2. Resident macrophages that terminate effector T cells in tissues constitute a novel and broadly applicable regulatory measure of particular relevance to processes of self-tolerance against sequestered antigens.

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