The outcome of immune responses critically depends on the pattern of lymphokines secreted by CD4+ T cells. CD4+ T cells may differentiate into interleukin 2 (IL-2) and interferon gamma secreting T helper 1 (Th1)-like cells or IL-4/IL-5/IL-10 secreting Th2-like cells. However, the mechanisms that regulate production of IL-4 or other T cell lymphokines in vivo remain unknown. We use the superantigen, Staphylococcus enterotoxin A (SEA), as a model antigen to characterize the signals that regulate the production of IL-4 in vivo. Induction of IL-4 in normal CD4+ T cells required stimulation with both antigen and IL-4. SEA-specific CD4+ T cells produced large amounts of IL-4 when restimulated within 10 d after in vivo priming. Repetitive application of both signals was required to prevent downregulation of IL-4 production. Although controversy exists regarding the susceptibility of Th2-like cells to tolerogenic signals, high doses of superantigen readily abolished the capacity to produce IL-4 in both naive T cells and in T cells already primed for IL-4 production. Infection with the nematode, Nippostrongylus brasiliensis, reversed the established T cell tolerance, whereas the signals which induced IL-4 production in normal T cells, antigen and IL-4, were not capable of reversing superantigen-specific tolerance in vivo. The major parameter that correlated with the capacity of parasitic infection to break tolerance was magnitude of the lymphoproliferation seen during the course of the infection. The capacity to activate or tolerize the IL-4 pathway in an antigen-specific fashion should prove useful in the design of antigen-specific therapies for autoimmune and allergic diseases.

This content is only available as a PDF.