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J Clin Invest. 2009 Jan;119(1):47-60. doi: 10.1172/JCI32310. Epub 2008 Dec 15.

IL-21R is essential for epicutaneous sensitization and allergic skin inflammation in humans and mice.

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  • 1Division of Immunology, Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical SChool, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common allergic inflammatory skin disease caused by a combination of intense pruritus, scratching, and epicutaneous (e.c.) sensitization with allergens. To explore the roles of IL-21 and IL-21 receptor (IL-21R) in AD, we examined skin lesions from patients with AD and used a mouse model of allergic skin inflammation. IL-21 and IL-21R expression was upregulated in acute skin lesions of AD patients and in mouse skin subjected to tape stripping, a surrogate for scratching. The importance of this finding was highlighted by the fact that both Il21r-/- mice and WT mice treated with soluble IL-21R-IgG2aFc fusion protein failed to develop skin inflammation after e.c. sensitization of tape-stripped skin. Adoptively transferred OVA-specific WT CD4+ T cells accumulated poorly in draining LNs (DLNs) of e.c. sensitized Il21r-/- mice. This was likely caused by both DC-intrinsic and nonintrinsic effects, because trafficking of skin DCs to DLNs was defective in Il21r-/- mice and, to a lesser extent, in WT mice reconstituted with Il21r-/- BM. More insight into this defect was provided by the observation that skin DCs from tape-stripped WT mice, but not Il21r-/- mice, upregulated CCR7 and migrated toward CCR7 ligands. Treatment of epidermal and dermal cells with IL-21 activated MMP2, which has been implicated in trafficking of skin DCs. These results suggest an important role for IL-21R in the mobilization of skin DCs to DLNs and the subsequent allergic response to e.c. introduced antigen.

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