MHC-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte killing of dissociated sympathetic neuronal cultures

P. T. Manning, E. M. Johnson, C. L. Wilcox, M. A. Palmatier, J. H. Russell

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35 Scopus citations


Experiments were conducted to determine whether neurons in culture can serve as targets for immunologic attack mediated by major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) which recognize Class I antigens. Allogeneic C3H/He primary neuronal cultures were quickly destroyed after CTL addition, while syngeneic C57BL/6J neurons were not lysed. Alterations in the distribution of chromatin were the first ultrastructural changes that occurred, followed by loss of nuclear morphology, cytosolic changes, and eventually fragmentation of both the nucleus and cytosol. With Campenot chambers, it was possible to separate the membrane and nuclear lesions. CTLs exposed to neurites, but separated from the cell body by the chamber barrier, caused degeneration of neurites but did not cause lysis and cell death. Neuronal lysis mediated by antibody and complement appeared to be distinct from CTL-mediated lysis. These experiments demonstrate that neurons in culture are targets for MHC-specific CTLs, and therefore probably express functional levels of Class I antigens. The signal for killing by CTLs is not retrogradely transported from the neurite to the cell body, and morphologic events following CTL-neuron interaction resemble those that occur in dividing tumor target cell populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-409
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1987


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