CD137 (4-1BB, TNFRSF9), a member of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor family, is a potent T cell co-stimulatory molecule. CD137 ligand (CD137L) is expressed by antigen presenting cells (APC) as a transmembrane protein and transmits activating signals into APC. In this study we investigated the effects of CD137L signaling in microglia, the resident APC in the central nervous system. In vitro, the mouse microglia cells lines BV-2 and N9, as well as primary mouse microglia responded with activation as evidenced by adherence and secretion of proinflammatory cytokines, MMP-9, and soluble intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM). CD137L signaling is also important for microglia activation in vivo, since CD137L-deficient mice exhibited profoundly less microglia activation during experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) which is a well-established mouse model for neuroinflammation and human multiple sclerosis (MS). Also CD137 is expressed in the CNS of mice during EAE. Activated microglia has been reported to mediate the destruction of axonal myelin sheaths and cause the death of oligodendrocytes, the main pathogenic mechanisms in EAE and MS. Corresponding to the lower microglia activation there were also fewer apoptotic oligodendrocytes in the CNS of CD137L-deficient mice. In vitro co-culture confirmed that CD137L-activated microglia induces apoptosis in oligodendrocytes, and identified reactive oxygen species as the mechanism of apoptosis induction. These data demonstrate activating effects of CD137L signaling to microglia, and show for the first time that the CD137 receptor/ligand system may be a mediator of neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative disease, by activating microglia which in turn kills oligodendrocytes.
CD137 is a molecule expressed on T cells with is stimulated by CD137 ligand CD137L. This is found on antigen presenting cells that stimulate T cells and loss of this molecule reduces microglial function. Stimulation by CD137Ligand triggers microglia to kill oligodendrocyte therefore blocking this pathway may be a way to stop damagaing microglia. However we need repairing microglia to repair.