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J Leukoc Biol. 2001 Mar;69(3):467-73.

Divergent effects of tumor necrosis factor alpha on apoptosis of human neutrophils.

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  • 1Central Laboratory of the Netherlands, Blood Transfusion Service Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam.


Apoptosis of neutrophils is a key mechanism to control the intensity of the acute inflammatory response. Previously, the cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) was reported by some to have pro-apoptotic and by others to have antiapoptotic effects on neutrophils. The aim of this study was to explain these contradictory results. We found that TNF-alpha at low concentrations strongly decreased apoptosis of neutrophils. However, at higher concentrations, TNF-alpha lost its protective effects, and also reversed the protective effects of interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). This pro-apoptotic effect of TNF-alpha was blocked by anti-CD11b and was absent in neutrophils from patients with chronic granulomatous disease, which cannot produce toxic oxygen metabolites. Under these circumstances, we found that TNF-alpha retained its anti-apoptotic effects even at high concentrations. In conclusion, the protective effects against apoptosis of IFN-gamma, GM-CSF, and TNF-alpha itself are overruled when the concentration of TNF-alpha is high enough to produce a respiratory burst. These dual, concentration-dependent effects of TNF-alpha provide an explanation for previous controversial reports and support a dominant role for TNF-alpha in neutrophil apoptosis.

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