Human CCR5high effector memory cells perform CNS parenchymal immune surveillance via GZMK-mediated transendothelial diapedesis

Brain. 2019 Nov 1;142(11):3411-3427. doi: 10.1093/brain/awz301.


Although the CNS is immune privileged, continuous search for pathogens and tumours by immune cells within the CNS is indispensable. Thus, distinct immune-cell populations also cross the blood-brain barrier independently of inflammation/under homeostatic conditions. It was previously shown that effector memory T cells populate healthy CNS parenchyma in humans and, independently, that CCR5-expressing lymphocytes as well as CCR5 ligands are enriched in the CNS of patients with multiple sclerosis. Apart from the recently described CD8+ CNS tissue-resident memory T cells, we identified a population of CD4+CCR5high effector memory cells as brain parenchyma-surveilling cells. These cells used their high levels of VLA-4 to arrest on scattered VCAM1, their open-conformation LFA-1 to crawl preferentially against the flow in search for sites permissive for extravasation, and their stored granzyme K (GZMK) to induce local ICAM1 aggregation and perform trans-, rather than paracellular diapedesis through unstimulated primary brain microvascular endothelial cells. This study included peripheral blood mononuclear cell samples from 175 healthy donors, 29 patients infected with HIV, with neurological symptoms in terms of cognitive impairment, 73 patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in remission, either 1-4 weeks before (n = 29), or 18-60 months after the initiation of natalizumab therapy (n = 44), as well as white matter brain tissue of three patients suffering from epilepsy. We here provide ex vivo evidence that CCR5highGZMK+CD4+ effector memory T cells are involved in CNS immune surveillance during homeostasis, but could also play a role in CNS pathology. Among CD4+ T cells, this subset was found to dominate the CNS of patients without neurological inflammation ex vivo. The reduction in peripheral blood of HIV-positive patients with neurological symptoms correlated to their CD4 count as a measure of disease progression. Their peripheral enrichment in multiple sclerosis patients and specific peripheral entrapment through the CNS infiltration inhibiting drug natalizumab additionally suggests a contribution to CNS autoimmune pathology. Our transcriptome analysis revealed a migratory phenotype sharing many features with tissue-resident memory and Th17.1 cells, most notably the transcription factor eomesodermin. Knowledge on this cell subset should enable future studies to find ways to strengthen the host defence against CNS-resident pathogens and brain tumours or to prevent CNS autoimmunity.

Keywords: CCR5; CNS immune surveillance; HIV infection; granzyme K; multiple sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AIDS Dementia Complex / genetics
  • AIDS Dementia Complex / psychology
  • Adult
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Endothelial Cells / immunology
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Epilepsy / genetics
  • Epilepsy / psychology
  • Granzymes / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Surveillance / immunology*
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 / genetics
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / genetics
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / psychology
  • Receptors, CCR5 / metabolism*
  • Transendothelial and Transepithelial Migration / genetics*
  • Transendothelial and Transepithelial Migration / immunology*
  • Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 / genetics


  • ICAM1 protein, human
  • Receptors, CCR5
  • Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1
  • GZMK protein, human
  • Granzymes