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This is the author's final version of this article from The Journal of Virology, 2020, Volume 94, Issue 14, Article number e00548-20.

The published version of the article can be found at

Copyright: American Society of Microbiology


Mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) is a murine betacoronavirus (m-CoV) that causes a wide range of diseases in mice and rats, including hepatitis, enteritis, respiratory diseases, and encephalomyelitis in the central nervous system (CNS). MHV infection in mice provides an efficient cause-effect experimental model to understand the mechanisms of direct virus-induced neural-cell damage leading to demyelination and axonal loss, which are pathological features of multiple sclerosis (MS), the most common disabling neurological disease in young adults. Infiltration of T lymphocytes, activation of microglia, and their interplay are the primary pathophysiological events leading to disruption of the myelin sheath in MS. However, there is emerging evidence supporting gray matter involvement and degeneration in MS. The investigation of T cell function in the pathogenesis of deep gray matter damage is necessary. Here, we employed RSA59 (an isogenic recombinant strain of MHV-A59)-induced experimental neuroinflammation model to compare the disease in CD4-/- mice with that in CD4+/+ mice at days 5, 10, 15, and 30 postinfection (p.i.). Viral titer estimation, nucleocapsid gene amplification, and viral antinucleocapsid staining confirmed enhanced replication of the virions in the absence of functional CD4+ T cells in the brain. Histopathological analyses showed elevated susceptibility of CD4-/- mice to axonal degeneration in the CNS, with augmented progression of acute poliomyelitis and dorsal root ganglionic inflammation rarely observed in CD4+/+ mice. Depletion of CD4+ T cells showed unique pathological bulbar vacuolation in the brain parenchyma of infected mice with persistent CD11b+ microglia/macrophages in the inflamed regions on day 30 p.i. In summary, the current study suggests that CD4+ T cells are critical for controlling acute-stage poliomyelitis (gray matter inflammation), chronic axonal degeneration, and inflammatory demyelination due to loss of protective antiviral host immunity.

IMPORTANCE The current trend in CNS disease biology is to attempt to understand the neural-cell-immune interaction to investigate the underlying mechanism of neuroinflammation, rather than focusing on peripheral immune activation. Most studies in MS are targeted toward understanding the involvement of CNS white matter. However, the importance of gray matter damage has become critical in understanding the long-term progressive neurological disorder. Our study highlights the importance of CD4+ T cells in safeguarding neurons against axonal blebbing and poliomyelitis from murine betacoronavirus-induced neuroinflammation. Current knowledge of the mechanisms that lead to gray matter damage in MS is limited, because the most widely used animal model, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), does not present this aspect of the disease. Our results, therefore, add to the existing limited knowledge in the field. We also show that the microglia, though important for the initiation of neuroinflammation, cannot establish a protective host immune response without the help of CD4+ T cells.

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