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J Clin Invest. 1993 Oct;92(4):1667-73.

Cytokine control of parasite-specific anergy in human lymphatic filariasis. Preferential induction of a regulatory T helper type 2 lymphocyte subset.

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Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


The immunological mechanisms involved in maintenance of an asymptomatic microfilaremic state (MF) in patients with lymphatic filariasis remain undefined. MF patients have impaired filarial antigen (Ag)-specific lymphocyte proliferation and decreased frequencies (Fo) of Ag-specific T cells, and yet elevated serum IgE and antifilarial IgG4. To investigate the mechanism of Ag-specific anergy in MF patients in contrast to amicrofilaremic individuals with chronic lymphatic obstruction (CP), the Fo of Ag-specific lymphocytes from peripheral blood mononuclear cells secreting either IL-4 or IFN-gamma were assessed by filter spot enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and IL-10 and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) mRNA transcript levels were assessed by a semiquantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction technique. The Fo of filaria-specific IL-4-secreting lymphocytes were equivalent in both MF (geometric mean [GM] = 1:11,700) and CP (GM = 1:29,300 P = 0.08), whereas the Fo of IFN-gamma-secreting lymphocytes were lower in MF (GM = 1:39,300) than in CP (GM = 1:4,200, P < 0.01). When the ratio of IL-4/IFN-gamma (T helper type 2 [Th2]/Th1)-secreting cells was examined, MF subjects showed a predominant Th2 response (8:1) compared with a Th1 response in CP individuals (1:4). mRNA transcript levels of IL-10 were also significantly elevated in MF compared with CP individuals (P < 0.01). Further, IL-10 and TGF-beta were shown to have a role in modulating the Ag-specific anergy among MF subjects, in that neutralizing anti-IL-10 or anti-TGF-beta significantly enhanced lymphocyte proliferation response (by 220-1,300%) to filarial Ags in MF individuals. These findings demonstrate that MF subjects respond to parasite antigen by producing a set of suppressive cytokines that may facilitate persistence of the parasite within humans while producing little clinical disease.

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