The development of CD4+ T helper (Th) type 1 and 2 cells is essential for the eradication of pathogens, but can also be responsible for various pathological disorders. Therefore, modulation of Th cell differentiation may have clinical utility in the treatment of human disease. Here, we show that interleukin (IL) 12 and IL-4 directly induce human neonatal CD4- T cells, activated via CD3 and CD28, to differentiate into Th1 and Th2 subsets. In contrast, IL-13, which shares many biological activities with IL-4, failed to induce T cell differentiation, consistent with the observation that human T cells do not express IL-13 receptors. Both the IL-12-induced Th1 subset and the IL-4-induced Th2 subset produce large quantities of IL-10, confirming that human IL-10 is not a typical human Th2 cytokine. Interestingly, IL-4-driven Th2 cell differentiation was completely prevented by an IL-4 mutant protein (IL-4.Y124D), indicating that this molecule acts as a strong IL-4 receptor antagonist. Analysis of single T cells producing interferon gamma or IL-4 revealed that induction of Th1 cell differentiation occurred rapidly and required only 4 d of priming of the neonatal CD4+ T cells in the presence of IL-12. The IL-12-induced Th1 cell phenotype was stable and was not significantly affected when repeatedly stimulated in the presence of recombinant IL-4. In contrast, the differentiation of Th2 cells occurred slowly and required not only 6 d of priming, but also additional restimulation of the primed CD4+ T cells in the presence of IL-4. Moreover, IL-4-induced Th2 cell phenotypes were not stable and could rapidly be reverted into a population predominantly containing Th0 and Th1 cells, after a single restimulation in the presence of IL-12. The observed differences in stability of IL-12- and IL-4-induced human Th1 and Th2 subsets, respectively, may have implications for cytokine-based therapies of chronic disease.

This content is only available as a PDF.