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J Immunol. 2005 Aug 15;175(4):2261-9.

IL-21 influences the frequency, phenotype, and affinity of the antigen-specific CD8 T cell response.

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  • 1Program in Immunology, Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA 98109, USA.


IL-21, a newly described cytokine belonging to the IL-2 gamma-chain receptor cytokine family (that includes IL-2, IL-7, and IL-15), has been described as an important regulator of the cellular immune response. In this study, the role of IL-21 in the generation of a human Ag-specific CD8+ T cell response is characterized by tracking a rare, but measurable population of self-Ag-specific T cells in vitro. Autologous dendritic cells pulsed with the melanoma antigen recognized T cells 1 self-peptide were used to stimulate CD8+ T cells from HLA-A2+ healthy donors and melanoma patients. We demonstrate that exposure to IL-21 increased the total number of MART-1-specific CD8+ T cells that could be elicited by >20-fold and, at the clonal level, enriched for a population of high-affinity CD8+ T cells with a peptide dose requirement more than 1 log(10)-fold less than their untreated counterparts. Phenotypic analysis of T cells from IL-21-treated cultures revealed a unique population of CD45RO+ CD28(high) CD8+ T cells, a phenotype that was stable for at least 4 wk after IL-21 exposure. These CD28(high) CD8+ T cells produced IL-2 upon Ag stimulation and represent potential helper-independent CTLs. Our studies demonstrate a significant role for IL-21 in the primary Ag-specific human CTL response and support the use of IL-21 in the ex vivo generation of potent Ag-specific CTLs for adoptive therapy or as an adjuvant cytokine during in vivo immunization against tumor Ags.

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