Autocrine regulation of IL-21 production in human T lymphocytes

Flavio Caprioli, Massimiliano Sarra, Roberta Caruso, Carmine Stolfi, Daniele Fina, Giuseppe Sica, Thomas T. MacDonald, Francesco Pallone, Giovanni Monteleone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


IL-21 has pathologic function in immune-inflammatory diseases. IL-21 mediates its functions through a heterodimeric receptor, composed of a specific subunit, termed IL-21R, and the common γ-chain. IL-21 is mostly produced by CD4+ T cells, but molecular mechanisms that regulate IL-21 synthesis are not fully understood. The fact that CD4+ T cells express high levels of IL-21R and are capable of functionally responding to IL-21 raises the possibility that IL-21 may regulate its own production. We here show that IL-21 enhances IL-21 RNA and protein expression in human peripheral blood CD3+ T cells in a dose- and time-dependent fashion. Additionally, both IL-7 and IL-15, but not IL-4, induce IL-21, thus suggesting that common γ-chain signals are not sufficient to promote IL-21 synthesis. Analysis of molecular mechanisms underlying IL-21 induction reveals that IL-21 activates Stat3 and enhances its recruitment to IL-21 gene promoter. Pharmacologic inhibition and knockdown of Stat3 by small interference RNA largely prevent IL-21 induction in IL-21-treated cells. Consistently, IL-21 is inducible in T cells by IL-6, another cytokine that activates Stat3. Finally, we show that IL-21 positively regulates its own expression in human intestinal CD3+ lamina propria lymphocytes, and blockade of endogenous IL-21 in cultures of CD3+ lamina propria lymphocytes isolated from patients with Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease characterized by high IL-21, down-regulates Stat3 activation and IL-21 expression. These data suggest the existence of a positive autocrine loop that could help to amplify and stabilize IL-21-driven, T cell-mediated responses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1800-1807
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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