While the impact of T helper 17 (Th17) cells in autoimmunity is undisputable, their pathogenic effector mechanism is still enigmatic. We have discovered SNARE complex proteins in Th17 cells enabling a vesicular glutamate release pathway inducing local intracytoplasmic calcium release and subsequent damage in neurons. This pathway is glutamine dependent and triggered by binding of β1-integrin to VCAM-1 on neurons in inflammatory context. Glutamate secretion could be blocked by inhibiting either glutaminase or KV1.3 channels, known to be linked to integrin expression and highly expressed on stimulated T cells. While KV1.3 is not expressed in the CNS tissue, intrathecal administration of a KV1.3 channel blocker or a glutaminase inhibitor ameliorated disability in experimental neuroinflammation. In humans, T cells from multiple sclerosis patients secreted higher levels of glutamate, and cerebrospinal fluid glutamine levels were increased. Altogether, our findings demonstrate that β1-integrin- and KV1.3 channel-dependent signaling stimulates glutamate release from Th17 cells upon direct cell-cell contact between Th17 cells and neurons.
Katharina Birkner, Beatrice Wasser, Tobias Ruck, Carine Thalman, Dirk Luchtman, Katrin Pape, Samantha Schmaul, Lynn Bitar, Eva-Maria Krämer-Albers, Albrecht Stroh, Sven G. Meuth, Frauke Zipp, Stefan Bittner