Following brain infection, the Challenge Virus Standard strain of rabies virus infects the retina. Rabies virus ocular infection induces the infiltration of neutrophils and predominantly T cells into the eye. The role of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α)-lymphotoxin signaling in the control of rabies virus ocular infection and inflammatory cell infiltration was assessed using mice lacking the p55 TNF-α receptor (p55TNFR−/− mice). The incidence of ocular disease and the intensity of retinal infection were greater in p55TNFR−/− mice than in C57BL/6 mice: the aggravation correlated with less neutrophil and T-cell infiltration. This indicates that cellular infiltration is under the control of the p55 TNF-α receptor and suggests that inflammatory cells may protect the eye against rabies virus ocular infection. The role of T cells following rabies virus ocular disease was assessed by comparison of rabies virus infection in nude mice with their normal counterparts. Indeed, the incidence and severity of the rabies virus ocular disease were higher in athymic nude mice than in BALB/c mice, indicating that T lymphocytes are protective during rabies virus ocular infection. Moreover, few T cells and neutrophils underwent apoptosis in rabies virus-infected retina. Altogether, these data suggest that T lymphocytes and neutrophils are able to enter the eye, escape the immune privilege status, and limit rabies virus ocular disease. In conclusion, rabies virus-mediated eye disease provides a new model for studying mechanisms regulating immune privilege during viral infection
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