Effector CD4(+) T lymphocytes generated in response to antigens produce endogenous opioids. Thus, in addition to their critical role in host defenses against pathogens, effector CD4(+) T lymphocytes contribute to relieving inflammatory pain. In this study, we investigated mechanisms of opioid release by antigen-experienced effector CD4(+) T cells that leave draining lymph nodes and come back into the inflammatory site. Effector antigen-primed CD4(+) T lymphocytes generated in vitro were intravenously injected into nude mice previously immunized with either cognate or irrelevant antigens in complete Freund adjuvant (CFA). CFA-induced mechanical hyperalgesia was only reduced in mice immunized with cognate antigen. Thus, antinociceptive activity of effector CD4(+) T cells requires the presence of the antigen for which they are specific within the inflammatory site. Accordingly, analgesia was inhibited by neutralizing cognate T cell receptor-mediated interaction between effector CD4(+) T lymphocytes and antigen-presenting cells at the site of inflammation. Analgesia was observed by transferring effector CD4(+) T lymphocytes with Th1 or Th2 phenotype, suggesting that antinociceptive activity is a fundamental property of effector CD4(+) T lymphocytes irrespective of their effector functions. Based on the use of agonists and antagonists selective for each of the opioid receptor subclasses, we showed that analgesia induced by T cell-derived opioids is elicited via activation of δ-type opioid receptors in the periphery. Thus, the antinociceptive activity is a fundamental property associated with the effector phase of adaptive immunity, which is driven by recognition of the cognate antigen by effector CD4(+) T lymphocytes at the inflammatory site.
Copyright © 2011 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.