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Pericytes regulate vascular immune homeostasis in the CNS

Torok, O;Schreiner, B;Tsai, HC;Utz, S;Schaffenrath, J;

Brain endothelium possesses several organ-specific features collectively known as the blood-brain barrier (BBB). In addition, trafficking of immune cells in the healthy central nervous system (CNS) is tightly regulated by CNS vasculature. In CNS autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), these homeostatic mechanisms are overcome by autoreactive lymphocyte entry into the CNS causing inflammatory demyelinating immunopathology. Previous studies have shown that pericytes regulate the development of organ-specific characteristics of brain vasculature such as the BBB and astrocytic end-feet. Whether pericytes are involved in the control of leukocyte trafficking remains elusive. Using adult, pericyte-deficient mice (Pdgfbret/ret), we show here that brain vasculature devoid of pericytes shows increased expression of VCAM-1 and ICAM-1, which is accompanied by increased leukocyte infiltration of dendritic cells, monocytes and T cells into the brain, but not spinal cord parenchyma. Regional differences enabling leukocyte trafficking into the brain as opposed to the spinal cord inversely correlate with the pericyte coverage of blood vessels. Upon induction of experimental autoimmune encephalitomyelitis (EAE), pericyte-deficient mice succumb to severe neurological impairment. Treatment with first line MS therapy – fingolimod significantly reverses EAE, indicating that the observed phenotype is due to the massive influx of immune cells into the brain. Furthermore, pericyte-deficiency in mice that express myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein peptide (MOG35-55) specific T cell receptor (Pdgfbret/ret; 2D2Tg) leads to the development of spontaneous neurological symptoms paralleled by massive influx of leukocytes into the brain, suggesting altered brain vascular immune quiescence as a prime cause of exaggerated neuroinflammation. Thus, we show that pericytes indirectly restrict immune cell transmigration into the CNS under homeostatic conditions and during autoimmune-driven neuroinflammation by inducing immune quiescence of brain endothelial cells.