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J Clin Invest. 2010 Jun;120(6):2131-43. doi: 10.1172/JCI41344. Epub 2010 May 3.

IL-15 triggers an antiapoptotic pathway in human intraepithelial lymphocytes that is a potential new target in celiac disease-associated inflammation and lymphomagenesis.

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  • 1INSERM U989, Paris, France.


Enteropathy-associated T cell lymphoma is a severe complication of celiac disease (CD). One mechanism suggested to underlie its development is chronic exposure of intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) to potent antiapoptotic signals initiated by IL-15, a cytokine overexpressed in the enterocytes of individuals with CD. However, the signaling pathway by which IL-15 transmits these antiapoptotic signals has not been firmly established. Here we show that the survival signals delivered by IL-15 to freshly isolated human IELs and to human IEL cell lines derived from CD patients with type II refractory CD (RCDII) - a clinicopathological entity considered an intermediary step between CD and enteropathy-associated T cell lymphoma - depend on the antiapoptotic factors Bcl-2 and/or Bcl-xL. The signals also required IL-15Rbeta, Jak3, and STAT5, but were independent of PI3K, ERK, and STAT3. Consistent with these data, IELs from patients with active CD and RCDII contained increased amounts of Bcl-xL, phospho-Jak3, and phospho-STAT5. Furthermore, incubation of patient duodenal biopsies with a fully humanized human IL-15-specific Ab effectively blocked Jak3 and STAT5 phosphorylation. In addition, treatment with this Ab induced IEL apoptosis and wiped out the massive IEL accumulation in mice overexpressing human IL-15 in their gut epithelium. Together, our results delineate the IL-15-driven survival pathway in human IELs and demonstrate that IL-15 and its downstream effectors are meaningful therapeutic targets in RCDII.

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