Although the impact of Th17 cells on autoimmunity is undisputable, their pathogenic effector mechanism is still enigmatic. We discovered soluble N-ethylmaleimide–sensitive factor attachment receptor (SNARE) complex proteins in Th17 cells that enable a vesicular glutamate release pathway that induces local intracytoplasmic calcium release and subsequent damage in neurons. This pathway is glutamine dependent and triggered by binding of β1-integrin to vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1) on neurons in the inflammatory context. Glutamate secretion could be blocked by inhibiting either glutaminase or KV1.3 channels, which are known to be linked to integrin expression and highly expressed on stimulated T cells. Although KV1.3 is not expressed in CNS tissue, intrathecal administration of a KV1.3 channel blocker or a glutaminase inhibitor ameliorated disability in experimental neuroinflammation. In humans, T cells from patients with multiple sclerosis 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