Increases in helminth-induced IL-21 protein levels disappear upon sample freezing

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IL-21 is a much studied cytokine that has been implicated in the regulation of TH1, TH2, TH17 and regulatory immune responses; its signalling is a promising therapeutic target for autoimmune, inflammatory and infectious diseases.

Despite its biological importance, measuring IL-21 reliably has proved difficult. ELISAs are commonly used to measure cytokines in various biological samples. However, results obtained are only as good as the quality of the sample. Here, we show that when using fresh samples, a significant increase in IL-21 was measured in the intestinal homogenate of mice infected with the intestinal worm Heligmosomoides polygyrus. This difference disappeared when samples were frozen in either liquid nitrogen for two days or at −80 °C for three weeks, with levels in both naïve and infected animals decreasing. This was not observed for the IL-13 cytokine, where freezing had no impact on levels measured.

Our study highlights the importance of sample storage to measuring biomarkers. Since modulating IL-21 signalling is such an important potential therapeutic avenue, accurately measuring the levels of this cytokine is key to assessing its role in various research models and clinical settings.

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