The endothelial blood-brain barrier (BBB) has a critical role in controlling lymphocyte traffic into the central nervous system (CNS), both in physiological immunosurveillance, and in its pathological aberrations. The intercellular signals that possibly could induce lymphocytes to cross the BBB include immunogenic presentation of protein (auto-)antigens by BBB endothelia to circulating T lymphocytes. This concept has raised much, though controversial, attention. We approached this problem by analyzing in vitro immunospecific interactions between clonal rat T lymphocyte lines with syngeneic, stringently purified endothelial monolayer cultures from adult brain micro-vessels. The rat brain endothelia (RBE) were established from rat brain capillaries using double collagenase digestion, density gradient fractionation and selective cytolysis of contaminating pericytes by anti-Thy 1.1 antibodies and complement. Incubation with interferon-gamma in most of the brain-derived endothelial cells induced Ia-antigens in the cytoplasm and on the cell surface in some of the cells. Before the treatment, the cells were completely Ia-negative. Pericytes were unresponsive to IFN-gamma treatment. When confronted with syngeneic T cell lines specific for protein (auto-)antigens (e.g., ovalbumin and myelin basic protein, MBP), RBE were completely unable to induce antigen-specific proliferation of syngeneic T lymphocytes irrespective of pretreatment with IFN-gamma and of cell density. RBE were inert towards the T cells, and did not suppress T cell activation induced by other "professional" antigen presenting cells (APC) such as thymus-derived dendritic cells or macrophages. IFN-gamma-treated RBE were, however, susceptible to immunospecific T cell killing. They were lysed by MBP-specific T cells in the presence of the specific antigen or Con A. Antigen dependent lysis was restricted by the appropriate (MHC) class II product. We conclude that the interaction of brain endothelial cells with encephalitogenic T lymphocytes may involve recognition of antigen in the molecular context of relevant MHC products, but that this interaction per se is insufficient to initiate the full T cell activation program.

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