Interleukin-10 (IL-10) is a recently described pleiotropic cytokine secreted mainly by type 2 helper T cells. Previous studies have shown that IL-10 suppresses cytokine expression by natural killer (NK) and type 1 T cells, thus down-regulating cell-mediated immunity and stimulating humoral responses. We here report that injected IL-10 protein is an efficient inhibitor of tumor metastasis in experimental (B16-F10) and spontaneous (M27 and Lox human melanoma) metastasis models in vivo at doses that do not have toxic effects on normal or cancer cells. Histological characterization after IL-10 treatment confirmed the absence of CD8+ and CD4+ T cells and macrophages at the sites of tumor growth, but abundant NK cells were localized at these sites. This unexpected finding was confirmed by showing that IL-10 inhibits most B16-F10 and Lox metastases in mice deficient in T or B cells (SCID and nu/nu mice), but not in those deficient in NK cells (beige mice or NK cell-depleted mice). However, IL-10 downregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokine production and/or recruitment of additional effector cells may also be involved in the anti-tumor effect at higher local concentrations of IL-10, since transfected B16 tumor cells expressing high amounts of IL-10 were rejected by normal, nu/nu, or SCID mice at the primary tumor stage, and there was still a 33% inhibition of tumor metastasis in beige mice.

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