MHC class I protein is expressed by neurons and neural progenitors in mid-gestation mouse brain.
Proteins of the major histocompatibility complex class I (MHCI) are known for their role in the vertebrate adaptive immune response, and are required for normal postnatal brain development and plasticity. However, it remains unknown if MHCI proteins are present in the mammalian brain before birth. Here, we show that MHCI proteins are widely expressed in the developing mouse central nervous system at mid-gestation (E9.5-10.5). MHCI is strongly expressed in several regions of the prenatal brain, including the neuroepithelium and olfactory placode. MHCI is expressed by neural progenitors at these ages, as identified by co-expression in cells positive for neuron-specific class III β-tubulin (Tuj1) or for Pax6, a marker of neural progenitors in the dorsal neuroepithelium. MHCI is also co-expressed with nestin, a marker of neural stem/progenitor cells, in olfactory placode, but the co-localization is less extensive in other regions. MHCI is detected in the small population of post-mitotic neurons that are present at this early stage of brain development, as identified by co-expression in cells positive for neuronal microtubule-associated protein-2 (MAP2). Thus MHCI protein is expressed during the earliest stages of neuronal differentiation in the mammalian brain. MHCI expression in neurons and neural progenitors at mid-gestation, prior to the maturation of the adaptive immune system, is consistent with MHCI performing non-immune functions in prenatal brain development. These results raise the possibility that disruption of the levels and/or patterns of MHCI expression in the prenatal brain could contribute to the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders.