Program Official

Principal Investigator

Diana J
Awardee Organization

University Of New England
United States

Fiscal Year
Activity Code
Early Stage Investigator Grants (ESI)
Not Applicable
Project End Date

Novel expression of MHC class II on DRG neurons and its role in promoting antinociceptive CD4+ T cells in females during chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy

Chemotherapeutic agents are often dose limiting due to the emergence of a debilitating and painful neuropathy, posing a major challenge to the successful treatment of cancer. Recent reports demonstrate that male mice lacking T cells have prolonged mechanical hypersensitivity after treatment with paclitaxel (PTX), and only the intravenous transfer of CD8+, but not CD4+, T cells reduced the hypersensitivity. Our preliminary in vivo data demonstrates female mice have 2-fold more CD4+ T cells in the DRG than male and ovariectomized (OVX) female mice, and neuronal injury induced by PTX robustly increases anti-inflammatory CD4+ T cells in the DRG only in estrogen-competent female mice. CD4+ T cell depletion in female mice prior to PTX results in an increase in mechanical hypersensitivity 3 days post-PTX. Our results suggest a previously unexplored hormone and sex difference in CD4+ T cells and the severity of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). PTX is primarily used to treat ovarian, breast, and non-small cell lung cancer with postmenopausal patients at an increased risk of CIPN; therefore, preventative measures would be invaluable for women. The mechanism by which CD4+ T cells reduce the severity of PIPN is unknown. In our preliminary studies, DRG neurons from female mice have the capacity to activate CD4+ T cells to secrete antiinflammatory cytokines. Published RNA-seq datasets of DRG neurons show that DRG neurons express MHCII, a protein directly involved in T cell activation. Our central hypothesis is that PTX administration in female mice increases MHCII on sensory neurons to stimulate the paracrine release of anti-inflammatory cytokines by resident CD4+ T cells to suppress CIPN. In Aim 1, we will determine the extent to which estrogendriven CD4+ T cells reduce the severity of PTX-induced peripheral neuropathy. Estrogen is known to induce proliferation of blood CD4+ T cells, but it is unknown if this occurs in the DRG. We predict that estrogen signaling in CD4+ T cells will increase the number of resident CD4+ T cells in the DRG to secrete antiinflammatory cytokines in response to PTX. We expect CD4+ T cells to ameliorate CIPN in female, but not male mice. In Aim 2, we will quantify the extent PTX can enhance MHCII on DRG neurons to induce antiinflammatory CD4+ T cell cytokine production. We predict PTX-induced inflammation will increase neuronal MHCII to elicit an anti-inflammatory CD4+ T cell response in the DRG of female, but not male mice. In Aim 3, we will determine the degree in vivo activation of neuroprotective CD4+ T cells can reduce and reverse PTXinduced peripheral neuropathy. We predict that activated CD4+ T cells will dampen and reverse CIPN in female, but not male mice, unless pre-treated with estrogen. Completion of these aims will provide compelling evidence that CD4+ T cells in the DRG of females are neuroprotective and anti-nociceptive, and can be exploited to prevent or resolve CIPN. Neuronal MHCII-dependent activation of CD4+ T cells represents a novel mechanism for neuro-immune communication that could be utilized for therapeutic intervention.


  • Whitaker EE, Mecum NE, Cott RC, Goode DJ. Novel expression of major histocompatibility complex II in dorsal root ganglion neurons attenuates paclitaxel-induced cold hypersensitivity in male and female mice. bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology. 2023 Sep 21. PMID: 37066176
  • Whitaker EE, Mecum NE, Cott RC, Goode DJ. Expression of MHC II in DRG neurons attenuates paclitaxel-induced cold hypersensitivity in male and female mice. PloS one. 2024 Feb 8;19(2):e0298396. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0298396. eCollection 2024. PMID: 38330029