Expression of major histocompatibility complex class I and class II antigens in human Schwann cell cultures and effects of infection with Mycobacterium leprae.Clin Exp Immunol. 1987 Jun; 68(3):500-9.CE
Recent experiments on rats have raised the possibility that Schwann cells can present antigens to T lymphocytes. We have investigated whether this mechanism might be relevant in leprosy by determining under what conditions human Schwann cells express class I and class II antigens, and whether infection with Mycobacterium leprae affects this expression. The distribution of these antigens was examined on human Schwann cells in dissociated cell cultures derived from human fetal peripheral nerves. We find that both Schwann cells and fibroblastic cells in these cultures normally express class I antigens but not class II antigens. When Schwann cells are infected with live Mycobacterium leprae for 48 h, 73% of Schwann cells phagocytose the bacteria. Mycobacterium leprae prevents 3H-thymidine incorporation into cultured human Schwann cells, but does not affect class I expression in these cells. Treatment of normal and Mycobacterium leprae infected cultures with gamma-interferon for 72 h induces class II expression on most Schwann cells but not on the majority of fibroblastic cells. The fact that human Schwann cells infected with Mycobacterium leprae can be induced by gamma-interferon to express class II antigens suggests that they may be able to present Mycobacterium leprae antigens to T lymphocytes and thus initiate immune responses against the bacteria. We suggest that a failure of this response, such as that seen within nerve trunks in lepromatous leprosy, is caused by deficient class II expression on Schwann cells. This deficiency in class II expression, in turn, may be caused by the reduced gamma-interferon production characteristic of lepromatous leprosy.