A large correlation between variation in T cell subsets and hippocampal neurogenesis suggests that the immune system has an unexpectedly large influence on the brain.
Neurogenesis continues through the adult life of mice in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus, but its function remains unclear. Measuring cellular proliferation in the hippocampus of 719 outbred heterogeneous stock mice revealed a highly significant correlation with the proportions of CD8+ versus CD4+ T lymphocyte subsets. This correlation reflected shared genetic loci, with the exception of the H-2Ea locus that had a dominant influence on T cell subsets but no impact on neurogenesis. Analysis of knockouts and repopulation of TCRα-deficient mice by subsets of T cells confirmed the influence of T cells on adult neurogenesis, indicating that CD4+ T cells or subpopulations thereof mediate the effect. Our results reveal an organismal impact, broader than hitherto suspected, of the natural genetic variation that controls T cell development and homeostasis.
In adult mice new neurons are produced in the hippocampus, where they are thought to influence learning, memory, and emotional regulation. The mechanisms and functions of this neurogenesis, however, remain unclear. Here we report that in different strains of mice, variation in cellular proliferation in the hippocampus (an index of neurogenesis) correlates with variation in the relative proportions of the ratio of CD4+ to CD8+ T cells (an immunology phenotype). We also show that T cells can influence neurogenesis (but that neurogenesis does not influence T cells) by analyzing knockouts, depleting mice of T cells, and repopulating alymphoid animals. The strong genetic correlation between T cells and cellular proliferation in the hippocampus contrasts with the weak, often non-significant, correlation with behavioral phenotypes. Of significance, the findings here suggest that modulation of the functions of the hippocampus to influence behavior is not the primary role of neurogenesis.