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Am J Pathol. 2011 Feb;178(2):794-802. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2010.10.043.

IL-21 and IL-21 receptor expression in lymphocytes and neurons in multiple sclerosis brain.

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Department of Neuropathology, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, Oxford Radcliffe NHS Trust, Oxford, United Kingdom.


IL-17-producing CD4(+) T cells (Th-17) contribute to the pathogenesis of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis and are associated with active disease in multiple sclerosis (MS). In addition to IL-17, Th-17 cells can also express IL-21, IL-22, and IL-6 under Th-17-polarizing conditions (IL-6 and transforming growth factor-β). In this study we investigated IL-21 and IL-21 receptor (IL-21R) expression in MS lesions by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. We detected strongly IL-21(+) infiltrating cells predominantly in acute but also in chronic active white matter MS lesions in which IL-21 expression was restricted to CD4(+) cells. In contrast, IL-21R was much more broadly distributed on CD4(+), CD19(+), and CD8(+) lymphocytes but not major histocompatibility complex class-II(+) macrophages/microglia. Interestingly, in cortical areas we detected both IL-21 and IL-21R expression by neurons. These findings suggest role(s) for IL-21 in both the acute and chronic stages of MS via direct effects on T and B lymphocytes and, demonstrated for the first time, also on neurons.

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