The CD44 adhesion molecule is expressed by astrocytes, glial-type cells which exhibit features of accessory cells for immune responses in the central nervous system. In primary cultures of mouse astrocytes, we have observed that surface expression and mRNA levels of CD44 are induced following stimulation with either PMA, or tumor necrosis factor alpha plus gamma interferon. Comparison of CD44 splice variants expressed by astrocytes and a T cell hybridoma shows that upon activation, both cell types express a similar pattern of CD44 transcripts. Thus, in both cell types, CD44 transcripts are produced which contain additional exons, including the exon v6 (known to be expressed by in vivo activated lymphocytes and by metastatic variants of tumor cells) as well as variants of larger size. In the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis, activated T cells cross the blood-brain barrier and lead to inflammation in the central nervous system. Analysis of mice with experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, frequently used as an animal model of multiple sclerosis, shows that CD44 is induced in vivo on glial cells surrounding inflammatory lesions. Using an in vitro model for adhesion between T cells and astrocytes, we have found a correlation between the activation state of these cells and their adhesion potential. Dose-dependent inhibition of adhesion by hyaluronate and by anti-CD44 monoclonal antibody KM81 shows that CD44 is involved in the adhesive interactions between T cells and astrocytes.

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