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Clin Immunol Immunopathol. 1991 Nov;61(2 Pt 1):202-11.

Dehydroepiandrosterone enhances IL2 production and cytotoxic effector function of human T cells.

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Department of Pathology, Stanford University School of Medicine, California 94305.


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is the most abundant adrenal steroid hormone in humans. Although it is well established that DHEA serves as an intermediate in sex steroid synthesis, recent studies in mice suggest that DHEA may also be a physiologic regulator of IL2 secretion. To explore the effect of DHEA on the human immune system, T lymphocytes from healthy adults were exposed to DHEA followed by stimulation with mitogens or antigen. Upon activation with a variety of stimuli, T cells pretreated with 10(-8) to 10(-11) M DHEA produced significantly greater amounts of IL2 and mediated more potent cytotoxicity than T cells activated in the absence of this steroid hormone. The peak effect of DHEA was observed at 10(-9) M, the concentration of hormone present in the blood of normal adults. In contrast to its effect on murine T cells, the IL2 enhancing effect of DHEA on human lymphocytes was limited to fresh CD4+ T cells and CD4+ clones; neither fresh CD8+ cells nor CD8+ clones were directly affected by DHEA treatment, although CD8+ cells stimulated in the presence of CD4+ cells and DHEA demonstrated enhanced cytotoxicity. The enhancing effect of DHEA was also detected at the level of IL2 mRNA, suggesting that DHEA may act as a transcriptional enhancer of the IL2 gene in CD4+ T cells. These results corroborate and extend earlier studies in mice and suggest a physiologic role for DHEA in regulating the human immune response.

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