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J Exp Med. 2009 Jan 16;206(1):69-78. doi: 10.1084/jem.20081571. Epub 2009 Jan 12.

The induction of antibody production by IL-6 is indirectly mediated by IL-21 produced by CD4+ T cells.

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  • 1Department of Medicine/Immunobiology Program, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA.


Interleukin (IL) 6 is a proinflammtory cytokine produced by antigen-presenting cells and nonhematopoietic cells in response to external stimuli. It was initially identified as a B cell growth factor and inducer of plasma cell differentiation in vitro and plays an important role in antibody production and class switching in vivo. However, it is not clear whether IL-6 directly affects B cells or acts through other mechanisms. We show that IL-6 is sufficient and necessary to induce IL-21 production by naive and memory CD4(+) T cells upon T cell receptor stimulation. IL-21 production by CD4(+) T cells is required for IL-6 to promote B cell antibody production in vitro. Moreover, administration of IL-6 with inactive influenza virus enhances virus-specific antibody production, and importantly, this effect is dependent on IL-21. Thus, IL-6 promotes antibody production by promoting the B cell helper capabilities of CD4(+) T cells through increased IL-21 production. IL-6 could therefore be a potential coadjuvant to enhance humoral immunity.

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