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Eur J Immunol. 2001 Jul;31(7):2026-34.

Type I interferons and IL-12: convergence and cross-regulation among mediators of cellular immunity.

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Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA.


Therapeutic use of type I IFN (IFN-alpha/beta) has become common. Many of the diverse diseases targeted are marked by pathogenetic abnormalities in cell-mediated immunity (CMI), these cellular immune responses either causing injury to the host, lacking sufficient vigor for virus or tumor clearance, or both. In general, therapeutic efficacy is limited. It is thus notable that the pleiotropic effects of type I IFN on CMI remain poorly understood. We characterized the effects of type I IFN on the production of IL-12, the central immunoregulatory cytokine of the CD4(+) T cell arm of CMI. We show that type I IFN are potent inhibitors of IL-12 production by human monocytes/macrophages. The underlying mechanism involves transcriptional inhibition of the IL-12p40 gene, marked by down-regulation of PU.1 binding activity at the upstream Ets site of the IL-12p40 promoter. Type I IFN have previously been shown to be able to substitute for IL-12 in driving IFN-gamma production from T and NK cells. The ability of IFN-alpha/beta to suppress IL-12 production while up-regulating IFN-gamma production suggests a possible mechanistic basis for the difficulties of employing these cytokines in diseases involving abnormalities of CMI.

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