Helper T (Th) cells can be classified functionally into two main types. Broadly, Th1 cells play a major role in eliminating viral pathogens, while Th2 cells mediate anti-parasite immunity and allergic responses. These functions are thought to depend on characteristic and distinct patterns of cytokine production. Infection with human respiratory syncytial virus, an important common cold virus, causes transient lymphocytic bronchiolitis in mice. Activated T cells are partly responsible for this disease, but also eliminate the virus. To show whether polarized cytokine production occurs in individual cells during viral bronchiolitis, we sampled murine bronchoalveolar lavage and mediastinal lymph node cells before and after infection. RT-PCR of cellular mRNA and flow cytometric analysis of intracellular cytokine production showed a rapid IFN-γ response at both sites, which persisted for more than 3 weeks in the lung. Most IFN-γ-producing cells were CD8. Some early CD4 IFN-γ-producing cells also made IL-10. Only low levels of IL-2, IL-4 and IL-5 mRNA or protein expression were detected at any time at either site. No cytokines were detected in B cell populations at either site. These novel techniques show the true complexity of cytokine production patterns on a cell-by-cell basis, allowing T cells to be reclassified according to function.


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