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Blood. 2009 Feb 26;113(9):1948-56. doi: 10.1182/blood-2008-02-139147. Epub 2008 Dec 22.

Cytokine-induced human IFN-gamma-secreting effector-memory Th cells in chronic autoimmune inflammation.

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Clinical Immunology Group, German Rheumatism Research Centre, Berlin, Germany.


T-helper (Th) cells activated by cytokines in the absence of T-cell receptor ligation are suspected to participate in inflammatory processes by production of interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). Still, the relevance of such a mechanism has not been addressed in humans. Here we demonstrate that a subset of human effector-memory Th cells expressing functional interleukin-12R (IL-12R), IL-18Ralpha, and CCR5 ex vivo can be induced to secrete IFN-gamma by cytokines signaling via the IL-2R common gamma-chain in combination with IL-12 and IL-18. Cytokine-driven IFN-gamma production depends on JAK3- and p38 mitogen-activated kinase signals and is sensitive to suppression by CD25(++) regulatory T cells. Contrary to IFN-gamma(+) Th cells induced upon antigen-specific stimulation, their cytokine-activated counterparts characteristically lack expression of costimulator 4-1BB (CD137). Strikingly, the majority of Th cells infiltrating inflamed joints of rheumatoid arthritis patients is equipped with receptors prerequisite for cytokine-induced IFN-gamma secretion. Among these cells, we detected a substantial fraction that secretes IFN-gamma directly ex vivo but lacks 4-1BB expression, indicating that cytokine-induced IFN-gamma(+) Th cells operate in autoimmune inflammation. Our data provide a rationale for how human effector-memory Thcells can participate in perpetuating inflammatory processes in autoimmunity even in the absence of T-cell receptor ligation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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