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Exerc Immunol Rev. 2003;9:48-57.

Exhaustive exercise and type-1/type-2 cytokine balance with special focus on interleukin-12 p40/p70.

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Department of Hygiene, Hirosaki University School of Medicine, Aomori, Japan.


It is known that interleukin (IL)-12 p70 promotes the differentiation of type-1 helper T (Th1) cells, which produce type-1 cytokines such as IL-2 and interferon (IFN), thereby supporting cellular immunity, whereas IL-12 p40 acts as an antagonist of IL-12 p70. In contrast, IL-4 and IL-6 promote the differentiation of Th2 cells, which produce type-2 cytokines IL-4, IL-6 and IL-10, induce humoral immunity and are involved in allergic reactions. Exhaustive exercise causes the suppression of T lymphocyte activity while asthmatic and allergic diseases are subclinically more prevalent in athletes. One of the mechanisms behind these observations might be a lower type-1 and higher type-2 cytokine balance, which we previously demonstrated to occur after exhaustive exercise. In the present study, we investigated the type-1/type-2 cytokine balance by measuring plasma concentrations of IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and IFN-gamma with microparticle-based flow cytometric technology. IL-5, IL-6 and IL-13 were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). IL-12 p40 and p70 were measured separately, also by ELISA. Plasma IL-12 p40 concentration rose significantly after maximal exercise and to an even greater extent after a marathon race. Conversely, plasma IL-12 p70 could not be detected even using two different assays. The marathon race caused a marked increase in the plasma concentrations of IL-6 and IL-10. Their responses were correlated (r = 0.78, p < 0.01), indicating that IL-6 is an inducer of IL-10, and may partly induce the type-1 < type-2 cytokine balance. With the exception of one study involving maximal exercise, other studies have failed to show any change in circulating IL-12 concentration with exercise. The present study demonstrated that IL-12 p40 was present in excess of p70 especially after exercise. This may be one of the mechanisms behind several phenomena including cellular immunosuppression, an increase in the relative proportion of type-2 cytokines following exhaustive exercise, and the higher incidence of infections and allergic disorders in regularly exercising endurance athletes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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