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Int Rev Immunol. 1998;17(1-4):157-80.

Cytokines in parasitic diseases: the example of cutaneous leishmaniasis.

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WHO Immunology Research and Training Center, University of Lausanne, Epalinges, Switzerland.


The essential role of cytokines in parasitic diseases has been emphasised since the in vivo description of the importance of T helper 1 (Th1) and T helper 2 (Th2) CD4+ T cell responses in resistance and susceptibility to infection with L. major in mice. Th1 cells produced IL-2, IFN-gamma and Lymphotoxin T (LT) and Th2 cells produce IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13. In this model of infection the correlation between on the one hand resistance to infection and the development of a Th1 response and on the other hand susceptibility and Th2 cell development allowed the identification of the mechanisms directing the differentiation of CD4+ T cell precursors towards either Th1 type or Th2 type responses. Cytokines are the crucial inducer of functional CD4+ T cell subset differentiation during infection with L. major. IL-12 and IFN-gamma direct the differentiation of Th1 response and IL-4 of a Th2 response. In susceptible mice, careful analysis of IL-4 production during the first days of infection has shown that the IL-4 produced as a result of a very early burst of IL-4 mRNA expression (16 hours) plays a essential role in the maturation of a Th2 CD4+ T cell response by rendering the CD4+ T cell precursors unresponsive to IL-12. Activation of a restricted population of CD4+ T cells expressing the V beta 4 V alpha 8 TCR heterodimer after recognition of a single antigen, the LACK (Leishmania Activated c Kinase) antigen, resulted in this rapid production of IL-4 required for the subsequent CD4+ T cell differentiation. Thus, tolerization of these cells might contribute a strategy for preventing infection with L. major.

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