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J Immunol. 2002 Apr 1;168(7):3181-7.

Suppressors of cytokine signaling proteins are differentially expressed in Th1 and Th2 cells: implications for Th cell lineage commitment and maintenance.

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  • 1Laboratory of Immunology, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Positive regulatory factors induced by IL-12/STAT4 and IL-4/STAT6 signaling during T cell development contribute to polarized patterns of cytokine expression manifested by differentiated Th cells. These two critical and antagonistic signaling pathways are under negative feedback regulation by a multimember family of intracellular proteins called suppressor of cytokine signaling (SOCS). However, it is not known whether these negative regulatory factors also modulate Th1/Th2 lineage commitment and maintenance. We show here that CD4(+) naive T cells constitutively express low levels of SOCS1, SOCS2, and SOCS3 mRNAs. These mRNAs and their proteins increase significantly in nonpolarized Th cells after activation by TCR signaling. We further show that differentiation into Th1 or Th2 phenotype is accompanied by preferential expression of distinct SOCS mRNA transcripts and proteins. SOCS1 expression is 5-fold higher in Th1 than in Th2 cells, whereas Th2 cells contain 23-fold higher levels of SOCS3. We also demonstrate that IL-12-induced STAT4 activation is inhibited in Th2 cells that express high levels of SOCS3 whereas IL-4/STAT6 signaling is constitutively activated in Th2 cells, but not Th1 cells, with high SOCS1 expression. These results suggest that mutually exclusive use of STAT4 and STAT6 signaling pathways by differentiated Th cells may derive in part, from SOCS3- or SOCS1-mediated repression of IL-12/STAT4- or IL-4/STAT6 signaling in Th2 and Th1 cells, respectively. Given the strong correlation between distinct patterns of SOCS expression and differentiation into the Th1 or Th2 phenotype, SOCS1 and SOCS3 proteins are therefore Th lineage markers that can serve as therapeutic targets for immune modulation therapy.

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