Maladaptation to mental stress mitigated by the adaptive immune system via depletion of naturally occurring regulatory CD4+CD25+ cells

Hagit Cohen, Yaniv Ziv, Michal Cardon, Zeev Kaplan, Michael A. Matar, Yori Gidron, Michal Schwartz, Jonathan Kipnis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


Peripheral cellular immunity was recently shown to play a critical role in brain plasticity and performance. The antigenic specificity of the participating T cells, however, was not investigated, and nor was their relevance to psychological stress. Here we show, using a mouse model, that adaptive immunity mitigates maladaptation to the acute psychological stress known to trigger abnormal behaviors reminiscent of human post-traumatic stress disorder. Assessment of behavioral adaptation (measured by the acoustic startle response and avoidance behavior) in mice after their exposure to predator odor revealed that maladaptation was several times more prevalent in T cell-deficient mice than in their wild-type counterparts. A single population of T cells reactive to central nervous system (CNS)-associated self-protein was sufficient to endow immune-deficient mice with the ability to withstand the psychological stress. Naturally occurring CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells were found to suppress this endogenous anti-stress attribute. These findings suggest that T cells specific to abundantly expressed CNS antigens are responsible for brain tissue homeostasis and help the individual to cope with stressful life episodes. They might also point the way to development of immune-based therapies for mental disorders, based either on up-regulation of T cells that partially cross-react with selfantigens or on weakening of the activity of regulatory T cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)552-563
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurobiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 May 2006


  • Autoimmune T cells
  • CD4+CD25+ naturally occurring regulatory T cells
  • Mental disorders
  • Myelin basic protein
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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