Exploration of the immunomodulatory activities of the multifunctional cytokine interleukin-11 (IL-11) has prompted several therapeutic applications. The immunomodulatory effects of IL-11 on human antigen-presenting cells and on T cells were investigated. IL-11 inhibited IL-12 production by activated CD14+ monocytes, but not by mature dendritic cells (DCs) stimulated via CD40 ligation. Moreover, IL-11 did not affect either DC maturation, as demonstrated by phenotypic analysis and evaluation of cytokine production, or DC generation from progenitor cells in the presence of specific growth factors. Molecular analysis demonstrated the expression of IL-11 receptor messenger RNA in highly purified CD14+ monocytes, CD19+ B cells, CD8+, and CD4+ T cells, and CD4+CD45RA+ naive T lymphocytes. In keeping with this finding, IL-11 directly prevented Th1 polarization of highly purified CD4+CD45RA+ naive T cells stimulated with anti-CD3/CD28 antibodies, as demonstrated by significant increases of IL-4 and IL-5, by significantly decreased interferon-γ production and by flow cytometry intracellular staining of cytokines. Coincubation of naive T cells with DCs, the most potent stimulators of Th1 differentiation, did not revert IL-11-mediated Th2 polarization. Furthermore, parallel experiments demonstrated that the activity of IL-11 was comparable with that induced by IL-4, the most effective Th2-polarizing cytokine. Taken together, these findings show that IL-11 inhibits Th1 polarization by exerting a direct effect on human T lymphocytes and by reducing IL-12 production by macrophages. Conversely, IL-11 does not exert any activity on DCs. This suggests that IL-11 could have therapeutic potential for diseases where Th1 responses play a dominant pathogenic role.
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