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Mol Immunol. 2011 Sep;48(15-16):2087-93. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2011.07.008. Epub 2011 Aug 2.

IFN-α primes T- and NK-cells for IL-15-mediated signaling and cytotoxicity.

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  • 1Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.


Recently it has become clear that interferon (IFN)-α, a type I interferon produced rapidly in response to infection, not only plays a key role in innate immunity, but also promotes adaptive immune responses by influencing the production or function of other cytokines. During infections IFN-α fosters the production of IL-15, which plays a pivotal role in the development, survival and function of NK cells and recruitment and activation of T cells. Since these two cytokines exert overlapping functions during infections, this investigation was undertaken to study the priming effect of IFN-α on the effect of IL-15 on human T and NK cells. We show that IFN-α induces an increased expression of IL-15Rα in human activated peripheral T cells, and in CD8(+) and CD4(+) T-cell lines. Functionally, the IFN-α-enhanced IL-15Rα expression resulted in an enhanced IL-15-mediated phosphorylation of STAT5 and STAT3 followed by a further increase in IL-15Rα expression. Moreover, IFN-α significantly increased the IL-15-induced cytotoxic activity of freshly isolated T and NK cells. Taken together, our data show that IFN-α boosts signaling and functional effects of IL-15, at least in part by fostering the increased IL-15R expression, thus add new facet to the emerging role of IFN-α as an important primer of adaptive immune responses.

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