Using primary culture methods, we show that purified astrocytes from embryonic mouse or rat central nervous system (CNS) can be induced to produce interferon (IFN) activity when pretreated with a standard IFN-superinducing regimen of polyribonucleotide, cycloheximide, and actinomycin D, whereas IFN activity was not inducible in neuronal cultures derived from mouse CNS. Astrocyte IFN displays inductive, kinetic, physicochemical, and antigenic properties similar to those of IFN-alpha/beta, but is dissimilar to lymphocyte IFN (IFN-gamma). Treatment of pure astrocytic cultures or astrocytes cultured with neurons with astrocyte IFN or IFN-alpha/beta induced a dramatic increase in the expression of H-2 antigens on a subpopulation of astrocytes. Neither neurons nor oligodendroglia expressed detectable levels of H-2 antigens when exposed to astrocyte IFN, IFN-alpha/beta, or to IFN-beta. Injection of astrocyte IFN or IFN-alpha/beta directly into brains of newborn mice indicated that H-2 antigens were also induced in vivo. None of the IFNs (astrocyte, alpha/beta, or beta) tested induced Ia antigens on CNS cells in vitro or in vivo. Since H-2 antigens have a critical role in immune responses, astrocyte IFN may initiate and participate in immune reactions that contribute to immunoprotective and immunopathological responses in the CNS.

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