Beneficial and detrimental effects of regulatory T cells in neurotropic virus infections
Neurotropic viruses infect the central nervous system (CNS) and cause acute or chronic neurologic disabilities. Regulatory T cells (Treg) play a critical role for immune homeostasis, but may inhibit pathogen-specific immunity in infectious disorders. The present review summarizes the current knowledge about Treg in human CNS infections and their animal models. Besides dampening pathogen-induced immunopathology, Treg have the ability to facilitate protective responses by supporting effector T cell trafficking to the infection site and the development of resident memory T cells. Moreover, Treg can reduce virus replication by inducing apoptosis of infected macrophages and attenuate neurotoxic astrogliosis and pro-inflammatory microglial responses. By contrast, detrimental effects of Treg are caused by suppression of antiviral immunity, allowing for virus persistence and latency. Opposing disease outcomes following Treg manipulation in different models might be attributed to differences in technique and timing of intervention, infection route, genetic background, and the host's age. In addition, mouse models of virus-induced demyelination revealed that Treg are able to reduce autoimmunity and immune-mediated CNS damage in a disease phase-dependent manner. Understanding the unique properties of Treg and their complex interplay with effector cells represents a prerequisite for the development of new therapeutic approaches in neurotropic virus infections.