Cytokines are important modulators of lymphocytes, and both interleukin-21 (IL-21) and IL-6 have proposed roles in T follicular helper (Tfh) differentiation, and directly act on B cells. Here we investigated the absence of IL-6 alone, IL-21 alone, or the combined lack of IL-6 and IL-21 on Tfh differentiation and the development of B cell immunity in vivo. C57BL/6 or IL-21−/− mice were treated with a neutralizing monoclonal antibody against IL-6 throughout the course of an acute viral infection (lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, LCMV). The combined absence of IL-6 and IL-21 resulted in reduced Tfh differentiation and reduced Bcl6 protein expression. In addition, we observed that these cytokines had a large impact on antigen-specific B cell responses. IL-6 and IL-21 collaborate in the acute T-dependent antiviral antibody response (90% loss of circulating antiviral IgG in the absence of both cytokines). In contrast, we observed reduced germinal center formation only in the absence of IL-21. Absence of IL-6 had no impact on germinal centers, and combined absence of both IL-21 and IL-6 revealed no synergistic effect on germinal center B cell development. Studying CD4 T cells in vitro, we found that high IL-21 production was not associated with high Bcl6 or CXCR5 expression. TCR stimulation of purified naïve CD4 T cells in the presence of IL-6 also did not result in Tfh differentiation, as determined by Bcl6 or CXCR5 protein expression. Cumulatively, our data indicates that optimal Tfh formation requires IL-21 and IL-6, and that cytokines alone are insufficient to drive Tfh differentiation.
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Date Published: 14-March-2011
Author(s): Eto D., Lao C., DiToro D., Barnett B., Escobar T., Kageyama R., Yusuf I., Crotty S.