Identification and Induction of Human Keratinocyte-derived IL-12.

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Interleukin 12 is a heterodimeric molecule that serves as a potent co-stimulator enhancing the development of Th1 cells. As one of the classical Th1 cell-mediated responses is contact sensitivity in skin, we wondered whether IL-12 might be produced by epidermal cells and serve as a mediator of this immune response. Using a sensitive, quantitative PCR technique we demonstrate that p35 chain mRNA of IL-12 is produced constitutively by human epidermal cells, whereas p40 chain mRNA can only be detected in epidermis treated with contact allergen, but not epidermis exposed to irritants or tolerogens. Time course studies showed a dramatic induction of IL-12 p40 mRNA 4 h after in vivo allergen treatment reaching peak strength after 6 h. In cell depletion assays we show that epidermal keratinocytes are the major source of this cytokine in the epidermis. This was further supported by analysis of mRNA derived from the human keratinocyte cell line HaCat expressing IL-12 p35 and p40 mRNA upon stimulation. The presence of bioactive IL-12 in supernatants derived from allergen-stimulated epidermal cells was demonstrated by IL-12-specific bioassay. Additional evidence for the functional importance of IL-12 in primary immune reactions in skin was obtained in allogeneic proliferation assays using human haptenated epidermal cells containing Langerhans cells as APC and allogeneic CD4+ T cells as responders. Anti-IL-12 mAb inhibited the proliferation of T cells by (approximately) 50%. In aggregate our data demonstrate that nonlymphoid keratinocytes are capable of producing functional IL-12 and provide evidence for the functional significance of IL-12 in primary immune responses in skin. (J. Clin. Invest. 1994. 94:1799-1805.) Key words: co-stimulation. Th1 differentiation. contact allergy. cytokine pattern

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