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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999 Jan;103(1 Pt 1):11-24.

IL-18: A TH1-inducing, proinflammatory cytokine and new member of the IL-1 family.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver 80262, USA.


Formerly called IFN-gamma-inducing factor, IL-18 is the new name of a novel cytokine that plays an important role in the TH1 response, primarily by its ability to induce IFN-gamma production in T cells and natural killer cells. Mice deficient in IL-18 have suppressed IFN-gamma production despite the presence of IL-12. IL-18 is related to the IL-1 family in terms of both structure and function. In terms of structure, IL-18 and IL-1beta share significant primary amino acid sequences and are similarly folded as all-beta pleated sheet molecules. Also similar to IL-1beta, IL-18 is synthesized as a biologically inactive precursor molecule lacking a signal peptide. Studies have shown that similar to the IL-1beta precursor, the IL-18 precursor requires cleavage into an active, mature molecule by the intracellular cysteine protease called IL-1beta-converting enzyme (ICE), which is also known as caspase-1. Therefore inhibitors of ICE activity may limit the biologic activity of IL-18 and may be useful as TH1 immunosuppressive agents. The activity of mature IL-18 is closely related to that of IL-1. IL-18 induces gene expression and synthesis of TNF, IL-1, Fas ligand, and several chemokines. The activity of IL-18 is by means of a signaling chain of a putative IL-18 receptor (IL-18R) complex. This IL-18R complex is made up of a binding chain termed IL-18Ralpha, a member of the IL-lR family previously identified as the IL-1R-related protein (IL-1Rrp), and a signaling chain, the IL-18Rbeta, also a member of the IL-1R family. The IL-18R complex recruits IL-1R-activating kinase and TNF receptor-associated factor-6, which phosphorylates nuclear factor kappaB (NFkappaB)-inducing kinase with subsequent activation of NFkappaB. Thus on the basis of primary structure, 3-dimensional structure, receptor family, signal transduction pathways, and biologic effects of IL-18 appear to place this cytokine in the IL-1 family. Similar to IL-1, IL-18 participates in both innate and acquired immunity.

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