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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Feb 3;106(5):1518-23. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0807309106. Epub 2009 Jan 21.

A critical role for IL-21 receptor signaling in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus in BXSB-Yaa mice.

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  • 1The Jackson Laboratory, 600 Main Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, USA.


Interleukin 21 (IL-21) is a pleiotropic cytokine produced by CD4 T cells that affects the differentiation and function of T, B, and NK cells by binding to a receptor consisting of the common cytokine receptor gamma chain and the IL-21 receptor (IL-21R). IL-21, a product associated with IL-17-producing CD4 T cells (T(H)17) and follicular CD4 T helper cells (T(FH)), has been implicated in autoimmune disorders including the severe systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)-like disease characteristic of BXSB-Yaa mice. To determine whether IL-21 plays a significant role in this disease, we compared IL-21R-deficient and -competent BXSB-Yaa mice for multiple parameters of SLE. The deficient mice showed none of the abnormalities characteristic of SLE in IL-21R-competent Yaa mice, including hypergammaglobulinemia, autoantibody production, reduced frequencies of marginal zone B cells and monocytosis, renal disease, and premature morbidity. IL-21 production associated with this autoimmune disease was not a product of T(H)17 cells and was not limited to conventional CXCR5(+) T(FH) but instead was produced broadly by ICOS(+) CD4(+) splenic T cells. IL-21 arising from an abnormal population of CD4 T cells is thus central to the development of this lethal disease, and, more generally, could play an important role in human SLE and related autoimmune disorders.

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