We have shown previously that dendritic cells (DC) produce IL-12 upon interaction with CD4+ T cells. Here we ask how this IL-12 production is induced and regulated. Quantitative PCR and in situ hybridization for IL-12 p40 and an ELISA specific for the p70 heterodimer were used to determine IL-12 production. We demonstrate that ligation of either CD40 or MHC class II molecules independently trigger IL-12 production in DC, and that IL-12 production is downregulated by IL-4 and IL-10. The levels of bioactive IL-12 that can be released by triggering with an anti-CD40 mAb or with a T cell hybridoma are high (range 260-4700 pg/ml from 1 X 10(6) DC in 72 h). The CD40-mediated pathway indicates that IL-12 production is induced in DC upon interaction with activated, CD40 ligand-expressing helper T cells, even in the absence of cognate antigen recognition. Side-by-side comparison of IL-12 production, and blocking experiments employing an anti-CD40 ligand mAb, suggest that the CD40-mediated pathway is quantitatively more significant than induction via the MHC class II molecule. The importance of the CD40/CD40 ligand interaction for IL-12 induction in DC likely contributes to the recent finding that mice lacking the CD40 ligand are impaired in mounting Th1 type cell-mediated immune responses.

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