IL-21 promotes survival and maintains a naive phenotype in human CD4+ T lymphocytes

Ferrari-Lacraz, Sylvie ; Chicheportiche, Rachel ; Schneiter, Gregory ; Molnarfi, Nicolas ; Villard, Jean ; Dayer, Jean-Michel

In: International Immunology, 2008, vol. 20, no. 8, p. 1009-1018

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    IL-21 is a key T-cell growth factor (TCGF) involved in innate and adaptive immune response. It contributes to the proliferation of naive, but not memory T lymphocytes. However, the full spectrum of IL-21 activity on T cells remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate that IL-21 primarily maintains the expression of specific naive cell surface markers such as CD45RA, CD27, CD62L and CCR7 on human CD4+ T lymphocytes and that the expression of CCR7 induces cell migration by means of CCL21 chemoattraction. These effects contrast with those of IL-2 which induced the marked proliferation of CD4+ T lymphocytes, leading to an activated-memory phenotype. Nevertheless, IL-21 maintained cell cycle activation and expression of proliferation markers, including proliferating cell nuclear antigen and Ki-67, and triggered T-cell proliferation via TCR and co-stimulation pathways. Unlike IL-2, IL-21 decreased the expression of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein, which correlated with the absence of activation of the phosphatidylinositol 3′-kinase/Akt signaling pathway. Thus, IL-21 is a TCGF whose function is the preservation of a pool of CD4+ T lymphocytes in a naive phenotype, with a low proliferation rate but with the persistence of cell cycling proteins and cell surface expression of CCR7. These findings strongly suggest that IL-21 plays a part in innate and adaptive immune response owing to homeostasis of T cells and their homing to secondary lymphoid organs