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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1995 Nov;21(3):246-84.

Interleukin-2 as a neuroregulatory cytokine.

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  • 1Max-Delbrück-Zentrum für Molekulare Medizin, Zelluläre Neurowissenschaften, Berlin-Buch, Germany.


Interleukin-2 (IL-2), the cytokine also known as T-cell growth factor, has multiple immunoregulatory functions and biological properties not only related to T-cells. In the past decade, substantial evidence accumulated to suggest that IL-2 is also a modulator of neural and neuroendocrine functions. First, extremely potent effects of IL-2 on neural cells were discovered, including activities related to cell growth and survival, transmitter and hormone release and the modulation of bioelectric activities. IL-2 may be involved in the regulation of sleep and arousal, memory function, locomotion and the modulation of the neuroendocrine axis. Second, the concept that IL-2 could act as a neuroregulatory cytokine has been supported by reports on the presence in rodent and human brain tissues of IL-2-like bioactivity, IL-2-like immunoreactivity, IL-2-like mRNA, IL-2 binding sites, IL-2 receptor (IL-2R alpha) and beta chain mRNA and IL-2R immunoreactivity. IL-2 and/or IL-2R molecules mainly localize to the frontal cortex, septum, striatum, hippocampal formation, hypothalamus, locus coeruleus, cerebellum, the pituitary and fiber tracts, such as the corpus callosum, where they are likely expressed by both neuronal and glial cells. Although the molecular biology of the brain IL-2/IL-2R system (including its relation to IL-15/IL-15R alpha) is not yet fully established by cloning and complete sequencing of all respective components, similarities (and to some extent differences) to peripheral counterparts are now apparent. The ability of IL-2 to readily penetrate the blood-brain barrier further suggests that this cytokine could regulate interactions between peripheral tissues and the central nervous system. Taken together, these data suggest that IL-2 of either immune and CNS origin can have access to functional IL-2R molecules on neurons and glia under normal conditions. Additionally, dysregulation of the IL-2/IL-2 receptor system could lead or contribute to functional and pathological alterations in the brain as in the immune system. Understanding the neurobiology of the IL-2/IL-2 receptor system should also help to explain neurologic, neuropsychiatric and neuroendocrine side effects occurring during IL-2 treatment of peripheral and brain tumors. Immunopharmacological manipulation either aiming at the activation or suppression of IL-2 signaling should consider functional interference with constitutive and inducible IL-2 receptors on brain cells in order to fulfil the high expectations associated with the use of this cytokine as a promising agent in immunotherapies, especially of brain tumors.

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