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J Immunol. 2008 Jul 15;181(2):1109-19.

IL-15 serves as a costimulator in determining the activity of autoreactive CD8 T cells in an experimental mouse model of graft-versus-host-like disease.

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Dermatology Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


To elucidate the mechanisms controlling peripheral tolerance, we established two transgenic (Tg) mouse strains expressing different levels of membrane-bound OVA (mOVA) as a skin-associated self-Ag. When we transferred autoreactive TCR-Tg CD8 T cells (OT-I cells), keratin 14 (K14)-mOVA(high) Tg mice developed autoreactive skin disease (graft-vs-host disease (GVHD)-like skin lesions) while K14-mOVA(low) Tg mice did not. OT-I cells in K14-mOVA(high) Tg mice were fully activated with full development of effector function. In contrast, OT-I cells in K14-mOVA(low) Tg mice proliferated but did not gain effector function. Exogenous IL-15 altered the functional status of OT-I cells and concomitantly induced disease in K14-mOVA(low) Tg mice. Conversely, neutralization of endogenous IL-15 activity in K14-mOVA(high) Tg mice attenuated GVHD-like skin lesions induced by OT-I cell transfer. Futhermore, K14-mOVA(high) Tg mice on IL-15 knockout or IL-15Ralpha knockout backgrounds did not develop skin lesions after adoptive transfer of OT-I cells. These results identify IL-15 as an indispensable costimulator that can determine the functional fate of autoreactive CD8 T cells and whether immunity or tolerance ensues, and they suggest that inhibition of IL-15 function may be efficacious in blocking expression of autoimmunity where a breach in peripheral tolerance is suspected.

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