Microvascular networks in the adventitia of large arteries control access of inflammatory cells to the inner wall layers (media and intima) and thus protect the immune privilege of the aorta and its major branches. In autoimmune vasculitis giant cell arteritis (GCA), CD4 T helper 1 (TH1) and TH17 cells invade into the wall of the aorta and large elastic arteries to form tissue-destructive granulomas. Whether the disease microenvironment provides instructive cues for vasculitogenic T cells is unknown. We report that adventitial microvascular endothelial cells (mvECs) perform immunoregulatory functions by up-regulating the expression of the Notch ligand Jagged1. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), abundantly present in GCA patients' blood, induced Jagged1 expression, allowing mvECs to regulate effector T cell induction via the Notch-mTORC1 (mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1) pathway. We found that circulating CD4 T cells in GCA patients have left the quiescent state, actively signal through the Notch pathway, and differentiate into TH1 and TH17 effector cells. In an in vivo model of large vessel vasculitis, exogenous VEGF functioned as an effective amplifier to recruit and activate vasculitogenic T cells. Thus, systemic VEGF co-opts endothelial Jagged1 to trigger aberrant Notch signaling, biases responsiveness of CD4 T cells, and induces pathogenic effector functions. Adventitial microvascular networks function as an instructive tissue niche, which can be exploited to target vasculitogenic immunity in large vessel vasculitis.
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