Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine now better understand the role of a protein, interleukin-21 (IL-21), in the immune system response to infections in the nervous system. The results of their recent study support further investigation into using IL-21 as a therapeutic agent for persistent central nervous system infections.
CD4 T cells in the immune system produce IL-21, which is critical for the development of CD8 tissue-resident-memory (TRM) cells during persistent viral infections of the central nervous system with polyomavirus.
Dr. Aron Lukacher, professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, said the results, published in Science Immunology, demonstrate that IL-21 is an important factor in the development of effective immune responses to chronic infections in the central nervous system including neurodegenerative HIV-AIDS and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a fatal brain infection caused by JC polyomavirus. PML starts with symptoms including clumsiness, weakness or difficulty speaking