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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 2;106(22):9021-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812690106. Epub 2009 May 13.

The IL-1-like cytokine IL-33 is inactivated after maturation by caspase-1.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institut de Pharmacologie et de Biologie Structurale, F-31077 Toulouse, France.


IL-33 is a chromatin-associated cytokine of the IL-1 family that has recently been linked to many diseases, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular diseases. IL-33 signals through the IL-1 receptor-related protein ST2 and drives production of pro-inflammatory and T helper type 2-associated cytokines in mast cells, T helper type 2 lymphocytes, basophils, eosinophils, invariant natural killer T cells, and natural killer cells. It is currently believed that IL-33, like IL-1beta and IL-18, requires processing by caspase-1 to a mature form (IL-33(112-270)) for biological activity. Contrary to the current belief, we report here that full-length IL-33(1-270) is active and that processing by caspase-1 results in IL-33 inactivation, rather than activation. We show that full-length IL-33(1-270) binds and activates ST2, similarly to IL-33(112-270), and that cleavage by caspase-1 does not occur at the site initially proposed (Ser(111)), but rather after residue Asp(178) between the fourth and fifth predicted beta-strands of the IL-1-like domain. Surprisingly, the caspase-1 cleavage site (DGVD(178)G) is similar to the consensus site of cleavage by caspase-3, and IL-33 is also a substrate for this apoptotic caspase. Interestingly, we found that full-length IL-33, which is constitutively expressed to high levels by endothelial cells in most normal human tissues, can be released in the extracellular space after endothelial cell damage or mechanical injury. We speculate that IL-33 may function, similarly to the prototypical alarmins HMGB1 and IL-1alpha, as an endogenous danger signal to alert cells of the innate immune system of tissue damage during trauma or infection.

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