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J Immunol. 2003 Apr 15;170(8):4111-8.

IL-21 induces the apoptosis of resting and activated primary B cells.

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  • 1Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, and Genetics Institute, Wyeth Research, Cambridge, MA 02140, USA.


Cytokines play an important role in regulating the development and homeostasis of B cells by controlling their viability. In this study, we show that the recently described T cell-derived cytokine IL-21 induces the apoptosis of resting primary murine B cells. In addition, the activation of primary B cells with IL-4, LPS, or anti-CD40 Ab does not prevent IL-21-mediated apoptosis. The induction of apoptosis by IL-21 correlates with a down-regulation in the expression of Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L), two antiapoptotic members of the Bcl-2 family. Furthermore, the reconstitution of Bcl-x(L) or Bcl-2 expression protects primary B cells from IL-21-induced apoptosis. In addition, a short-term preactivation of B cells with anti-CD40 Ab confers protection from IL-21-mediated apoptosis through the up-regulation of Bcl-x(L). These studies reveal a novel pathway that mediates B cell apoptosis via the IL-21R and suggest that IL-21 may play a role in regulating B cell homeostasis.

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