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Cell Mol Immunol. 2010 Jul;7(4):260-2. doi: 10.1038/cmi.2010.3. Epub 2010 Mar 22.

The enigmatic processing and secretion of interleukin-33.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Showa University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan.


Interleukin-33 (IL-33) is the most attractive novel cytokine identified as an IL-1 family member. IL-33 was first named NF-HEV (nuclear factor from high endothelial venules), as it was known to interact with nuclear chromatin although its exact intracellular functions are still to be clarified. IL-33 is now recognized as the specific ligand for the orphan IL-1 receptor family member ST2 and to be involved in polarization of T cells towards T helper 2 cell phenotype and in activation of mast cells, bosophils, eosinophils and natural killer cells. It is essential for IL-33 to be extracellularly released in order to bind to the ST2 receptor and consequently play a crucial role in inflammatory, infectious and autoimmune diseases. However, like the IL-1 family members, IL-1beta and IL-18, IL-33 mRNA is translated without a signal sequence for secretion. Additionally, IL-33 cannot be released by the processing and secretion mechanism shared by IL-1beta and IL-18 as IL-33 is not a substrate of caspase-1 and does not require proteolysis for activation. In contrast, IL-33 can be inactivated by apoptotic caspases. Accordingly, IL-33 is proposed to be released as an alarmin from necrotic cells but to be deleted during apoptosis. Besides the known autocrine, paracrine, intracrine, juxtacrine and retrocrine mechanisms of cellular interaction with cytokines, release by necrotic cells is another pathway for a cytokine to display its function, which we suggest might be called 'necrocrine'. This mini review summarizes recent progress of how IL-33 displays potential immunoregulatory roles with a particular focus on its enigmatic production.

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