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J Immunol. 2009 Feb 15;182(4):1781-7. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0803009.

IL-21: an executor of B cell fate.

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  • 1Division of Stem Cell and Developmental Biology, Princess Margaret Hospital, Ontario Cancer Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada.


IL-21 is a type I cytokine that shares the common receptor gamma-chain with IL-2, IL-4, IL-7, IL-9, and IL-15. B cells are one of the lymphoid cell types whose development and function are regulated by IL-21. Depending on the interplay with costimulatory signals and on the developmental stage of a B cell, IL-21 can induce proliferation, differentiation into Ig-producing plasma cells, or apoptosis in both mice and humans. Alone and in combination with Th cell-derived cytokines IL-21 can regulate class switch recombination to IgG, IgA, or IgE isotypes, indicating its important role in shaping the effector function of B cells. This review highlights the role of IL-21 in B cell development, function, and disease and provides some perspectives on the future studies in this area.

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