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Nat Med. 2004 May;10(5):540-4. Epub 2004 Apr 25.

Reciprocal CD40 signals through p38MAPK and ERK-1/2 induce counteracting immune responses.

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National Centre for Cell Science, Ganeshkhind, Pune 411007, India.

Erratum in

  • Nat Med. 2004 Jul;7(10):755.


Macrophages play host to Leishmania major, a parasite that causes leishmaniasis in 500,000 people annually. Macrophage-expressed CD40, a costimulatory molecule, induces interleukin-12 (IL-12)-dependent and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma)-dependent host-protective immune responses to Leishmania and other intracellular pathogens. Paradoxically, IL-10, another CD40-induced cytokine in macrophages, promotes Leishmania infection. How CD40 signaling regulates the secretion of these two counteractive cytokines remains unknown. Here we show that weak CD40 signals induce extracellular stress-related kinase-1/2 (ERK-1/2)-dependent IL-10 expression, whereas stronger signals induce p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38MAPK)-dependent IL-12 production. p38MAPK and ERK-1/2 therefore have counter-regulatory actions. Leishmania skews CD40 signaling toward ERK-1/2, inducing IL-10, which inhibits activation of CD40-induced p38MAPK and expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase-2 (iNOS-2) and IL-12. ERK-1/2 inhibition or IL-10 neutralization restores CD40-induced p38MAPK activation and parasite killing in macrophages and the BALB/c mouse, a susceptible host. These data uncover a new immune evasion strategy, whereby Leishmania differentially modulates CD40-engaged, reciprocally functioning signaling modules, and provide a new conceptual framework for immune homeostasis.

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