The patterns of cytokine mRNA expression in mice with primary or secondary influenza pneumonia have been assessed by in situ hybridization analysis of cells from both the mediastinal lymph node (MLN) and the virus-infected lung. Evidence of substantial transcriptional activity was found in all lymphocyte subsets recovered from both anatomical sites. The kinetics of cytokine mRNA expression after primary infection with an H3N2 virus were in accord with the idea that the initial response occurs in regional lymphoid tissue, with the effector T cells later moving to the lung. This temporal separation was much less apparent for the more rapid secondary response resulting from challenge of H3N2-primed mice with an H1N1 virus. Among the T cell receptor alpha/beta+ subsets, transcripts for interferon (IFN) gamma and tumor necrosis factor beta were most commonly found in the CD8+ population whereas mRNA for interleukin (IL) 4 and IL-10 was much more prevalent in CD4+ T cells. The gamma/delta T cells expressed mRNA for all cytokines tested, with IL-2, IL-4, and IFN-gamma predominating among those recovered from the inflammatory exudate. At particular time points, especially early in the MLN and late in the infected lung, the frequency of mRNA+ lymphocytes was much higher than would be expected from current understanding of the prevalence of virus-specific precursors and effectors. If this response is typical, induction of cytokine gene expression for T cells that are not responding directly to the invading pathogen may be a prominent feature of acute virus infections.

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