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Eur J Immunol. 1999 Feb;29(2):650-9.

Induction of IFN-gamma-producing CD4+ natural killer T cells by Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette Guérin.

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Department of Immunology, Max-Planck-Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, Germany.


The CD4+ natural killer (NK)T cells in the liver are potent IL-4 producers and hence may promote Th2 cell development. Following Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG) infection, IL-4-producing CD4+ NKT cells become undetectable in liver mononuclear cells of normal density (interface between 40 and 70% Percoll) by flow cytometry. The present study shows that M. bovis BCG infection changes the density of liver CD4+ NKT cells and shifts cytokine production from IL-4 to IFN-gamma. The number of CD4+ NK1+ TCR alpha/beta(intermediate) cells increased in the low-density fraction (<40% Percoll density gradient) in parallel to the reduction of this cell population in the fraction of normal density. The number of IL-4-producing cells, however, was small and high frequencies of IFN-gamma-secreting cells were identified in the low-density fraction after TCR/CD3 ligation. Accordingly, selected low-density CD4+ NKT cells encompassed high numbers of IFN-gamma producers and minute numbers of IL-4-secreting cells. Induction of low-density CD4+ NKT cells by M. bovis BCG was abrogated by endogenous IL-12 neutralization which also caused increased bacterial growth in the liver. We assume that M. bovis BCG infection changes cytokine secretion by the CD4+ NKT cell population from IL-4 to IFN-gamma through IL-12 induction. Thus, CD4+ NKT cells may contribute to host resistance against intracellular bacteria prior to conventional IFN-gamma-producing Th1 cells.

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