Sindbis virus causes an acute, nonfatal inflammatory encephalitis in weanling BALB/c mice. Mononuclear inflammatory cells are present in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) as well as in the parenchyma of the brain. Both aspects of this inflammatory response were eliminated by treatment with cyclophosphamide. Athymic nude (nu/nu) mice developed no inflammation in the brain, but did develop a CSF pleocytosis that peaked on day 2 after infection. The time course of the appearance of cells in the CSF was earlier in nu/nu mice than their heterozygote (nu/+) littermates. The pleocytosis in nu/nu mice reached a peak on day 2, whereas in nu/+ mice the peak was on day 4, as it is in normal BALB/c mice. To determine whether some of the CSF cells in nu/nu mice may be natural killer (NK) cells, NK activity was measured in a 4-hr assay by using a YAC-1 target cell. NK cell activity in the spleen and peripheral blood was induced by infection with Sindbis virus in nu/nu mice with a similar time course to that of nu/+ mice (peak 1 day after infection). CSF from nu/nu mice had NK activity present 2 days after infection that was greater than that present in either the peripheral blood or spleen. BALB/c and nu/+ mice had insufficient cells present for assay at day 2, but BALB/c mice had NK activity present in the CSF 3 and 5 days after infection that exceeded that in the peripheral blood or spleen. Brain interferon was detectable on day 1 in nu/nu mice, but not until day 2 in nu/+ mice even though the amounts of brain virus were the same in the two groups at all time points. It is concluded that cells with NK activity contribute to the CSF pleocytosis induced by acute Sindbis virus encephalitis.

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