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J Immunol. 2011 Dec 1;187(11):5627-35. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1003998. Epub 2011 Nov 2.

IL-1β and TGF-β act antagonistically in induction and differentially in propagation of human proinflammatory precursor CD4+ T cells.

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Department of Experimental Pediatrics, University Hospital, Otto-von-Guericke University, Magdeburg 39120, Germany.


Cytokines are critical messengers that control the differentiation of Th cells. To evaluate their impact on the fate of human naive CD4(+) T cells from cord and adult blood, early T cell differentiation was monitored after T cell activation in the presence of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Interestingly, the analysis of Th cell lineage-specific molecules revealed that IL-1β on its own mediates differentiation of Th cells that secrete a wide range of proinflammatory cytokines and stably express CD69, STAT1, IFN-γ, and IL-17. Notably, our data suggest that IL-1β induces Th17 cells independent of RORC upregulation. In contrast, TGF-β that triggers RORC prevents Th17 cell development. This suppressive function of TGF-β is characterized by inhibition of STAT1, STAT3, and CD69. However, after repeated anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 stimulation, we observe that TGF-β provokes an increase in Th17 cells that presumably relies on reactivation of a default pathway by preferential inhibition of IFN-γ. Hence, our data extend the view that the principal cytokines for determining Th cell fate are IL-12 for the Th1 lineage, IL-4 for the Th2 lineage, and TGF-β in conjunction with IL-6 for the Th17 lineage. We propose that IL-1β induces a general proinflammatory Th cell precursor that, in the presence of the lineage-specifying cytokines, further differentiates into one of the specific Th cell subpopulations.

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