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This article has been peer reviewed and is published in PLoS Pathogens 2011, 7(12). The published version is available at DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002462. © Public Library of Science


Although viruses have been implicated in central nervous system (CNS) diseases of unknown etiology, including multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the reproducible identification of viral triggers in such diseases has been largely unsuccessful. Here, we explore the hypothesis that viruses need not replicate in the tissue in which they cause disease; specifically, that a peripheral infection might trigger CNS pathology. To test this idea, we utilized a transgenic mouse model in which we found that immune cells responding to a peripheral infection are recruited to the CNS, where they trigger neurological damage. In this model, mice are infected with both CNS-restricted measles virus (MV) and peripherally restricted lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). While infection with either virus alone resulted in no illness, infection with both viruses caused disease in all mice, with ∼50% dying following seizures. Co-infection resulted in a 12-fold increase in the number of CD8+ T cells in the brain as compared to MV infection alone. Tetramer analysis revealed that a substantial proportion (>35%) of these infiltrating CD8+ lymphocytes were LCMV-specific, despite no detectable LCMV in CNS tissues. Mechanistically, CNS disease was due to edema, induced in a CD8-dependent but perforin-independent manner, and brain herniation, similar to that observed in mice challenged intracerebrally with LCMV. These results indicate that T cell trafficking can be influenced by other ongoing immune challenges, and that CD8+ T cell recruitment to the brain can trigger CNS disease in the apparent absence of cognate antigen. By extrapolation, human CNS diseases of unknown etiology need not be associated with infection with any particular agent; rather, a condition that compromises and activates the blood-brain barrier and adjacent brain parenchyma can render the CNS susceptible to pathogen-independent immune attack.