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Int J Hematol. 2001 Jul;74(1):3-8.

Cytokines: past, present, and future.

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Division of Basic Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center, Maryland 21702-1201, USA.


This review provides an historical account of the discovery and development of cytokines. Cytokines are soluble extracellular proteins or glycoproteins that are crucial intercellular regulators and mobilizers of cells engaged in innate as well as adaptive inflammatory host defenses, cell growth, differentiation, cell death, angiogenesis, and development and repair processes aimed at the restoration of homeostasis. Although cytokines are occasionally produced constitutively, they are usually produced by virtually every nucleated cell type in response to injurious stimuli. Cytokines act on cells expressing complementary receptors. Cytokines have been assigned to various family groups based on the structural homologies of their receptors. This review shows how cytokine research evolved from phenomenological to molecular stages and from a focus on ligands to characterization of cytokine receptors. The advent of molecular biology, monoclonal antibodies, and microsequencing made it possible to obtain pure recombinant cytokine preparation for experimental and therapeutic applications. The development of targeted gene deletions revealed many cytokines to have unexpected pathophysiological functions. The identification of "virokines," homologues that mimic cytokine ligands and receptors, has provided impetus to the founding of biotechnology companies aimed at developing cytokine agonists and antagonists for therapeutic applications. The discipline of cytokinology is now endowed with several journals, multiple annual meetings, and many devoted investigators. The explosion in cytokine information over the past 40 years has been enormous and full of surprises. If past be prologue, with the advent of genomics and proteomics the future should witness even greater progress.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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