We evaluated the participatory role of human HLA-DR molecules in control of virus from the central nervous system and in the development of subsequent spinal cord demyelination. The experiments utilized intracranial infection with Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus (TMEV), a picornavirus that, in some strains of mice, results in primary demyelination. We studied DR2 and DR3 transgenic mice that were bred onto a combined class I-deficient mouse (beta-2 microglobulin deficient; β2m0) and class II-deficient mouse (Aβ0) of the H-2b background. Aβ0. β2m0 mice infected with TMEV died within 18 days of infection. These mice showed severe encephalomyelitis due to rapid replication of virus genome. In contrast, transgenic mice with insertion of a single human class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) gene (DR2 or DR3) survived the acute infection. DR2 and DR3 mice controlled virus infection by 45 days and did not develop spinal cord demyelination. Levels of virus RNA were reduced in HLA-DR transgenic mice compared to Aβ0.β2m0 mice. Virus-neutralizing antibody responses did not explain why DR mice survived the infection and controlled virus replication. However, DR mice showed an increase in gamma interferon and interleukin-2 transcripts in the brain, which were associated with protection. The findings support the hypothesis that the expression of a single human class II MHC molecule can, by itself, influence the control of an intracerebral pathogen in a host without a competent class I MHC immune response. The mechanism of protection appears to be the result of cytokines released by CD4+ T cells.
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