Background: Toxoplasma gondii ( T. gondii ) is a highly successful parasite being able to cross all biological barriers of the body, finally reaching the central nervous system (CNS). Previous studies have highlighted the critical involvement of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) during T. gondii invasion and development of subsequent neuroinflammation. Still, the potential contribution of the choroid plexus (CP), a main structure forming the blood-cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)-barrier (BCSFB) have not been addressed.
Methods: To investigate T. gondii invasion and the onset of neuroinflammation, the CP and brain microvessels (BMV) were isolated and analysed for parasite burden. Additionally, immuno-stained brain sections and three dimensional whole mount preparations were evaluated for parasite localization and morphological alterations. Activation of choroidal and brain endothelial cells were characterized by flow cytometry. To evaluate the impact of early immune responses on CP and BMV, expression levels of inflammatory mediators, tight junctions (TJ) and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) were quantified. Additionally, FITC-dextran was applied to determine infection-related changes in BCSFB permeability. Finally, the response of primary CP epithelial cells to T. gondii parasites was tested in vitro .
Results: Here we revealed that endothelial cells in the CP are initially infected by T. gondii, and become activated prior to BBB endothelial cells indicated by MHCII upregulation. Additionally, CP elicited early local immune response with upregulation of IFN-γ, TNF, IL-6, host-defence factors as well as swift expression of CXCL9 chemokine, when compared to the BMV. Consequently, we uncovered distinct TJ disturbances of claudins, associated with upregulation of MMP-8 and MMP-13 expression in infected CP in vivo , which was confirmed by in vitro infection of primary CP epithelial cells. Notably, we detected early barrier damage and functional loss by increased BCSFB permeability to FITC-dextran in vivo , which was extended over the infection course.
Conclusions: Altogether, our data reveal a close interaction between T. gondii infection at the CP and the impairment of the BCSFB function indicating that infection-related neuroinflammation is initiated in the CP.