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J Immunol. 2010 Mar 1;184(5):2512-7. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0902900. Epub 2010 Jan 22.

Functionally significant differences in expression of disease-associated IL-7 receptor alpha haplotypes in CD4 T cells and dendritic cells.

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Westmead Millennium Institute, University of Sydney, Westmead, New South Wales, Australia.


Common genetic variants of IL-7 receptor alpha (IL-7Ralpha) have recently been shown to affect susceptibility to multiple sclerosis (MS) and type 1 diabetes, and survival following bone marrow transplantation. Transcription of the gene produces two dominant isoforms, with or without exon 6, which code for membrane-bound or soluble IL-7Ralpha, respectively. The haplotypes produce different isoform ratios. We have tested IL-7Ralpha mRNA expression in cell subsets and in models of T cell homeostasis, activation, tolerance, and differentiation into regulatory T cell/Th1/Th2/Th17, memory, and dendritic cells (DCs) under the hypothesis that the conditions in which haplotype differences are maximal are those likely to be the basis for their association with disease pathogenesis. Maximal differences between haplotypes were found in DCs, where the ligand is mainly thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP). The MS-protective haplotype produces a much lower ratio of soluble to membrane-bound receptor, and so potentially, DCs of this haplotype are more responsive to TSLP. The TSLP/IL-7Ralpha interaction on DCs is known to be critical for production of thymic regulatory T cells, and reduced production of these cells in MS susceptibility haplotypes may be a basis for its association with this disease. IL-7Ralpha mRNA expression varies greatly through cell differentiation so that it may be a useful marker for cell states. We also show that serum levels of soluble receptor are much higher for the MS susceptibility haplotype (p = 4 x 10(-13)). Because signaling through IL-7Ralpha controls T cell regulation, this haplotype difference is likely to affect the immunophenotype and disease pathogenesis.

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