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Cytokines at a Glance
  • Cytokines are polypeptide mediators that function in communication between hematopoietic cells and other cell types.
  • Cytokines often have multiple biologic activities (pleiotropism) and overlapping biologic effects (redundancy).
  • Primary cytokines, such as interleukin 1 and tumor necrosis factor-α, are sufficient on their own to trigger leukocyte influx into tissue.
  • Most cytokines signal through either the nuclear factor-κB or the Jak/STAT signaling pathways.
  • Cytokine-based therapeutics now in use include recombinant cytokines, inhibitory monoclonal antibodies, fusion proteins composed of cytokine receptors and immunoglobulin chains, topical immunomodulators such as imiquimod, and cytokine fusion toxins.

When cells and tissues in complex organisms need to communicate over distances greater than one cell diameter, soluble factors must be employed. A subset of these factors is most important when produced or released transiently under emergent conditions. When faced with an infection- or injury-related challenge, the host must orchestrate a complex and carefully choreographed series of steps. It must mobilize certain circulating white blood cells precisely to the relevant injured area (but not elsewhere) and guide other leukocytes involved in host defense, particularly T and B cells, to specialized lymphatic tissue remote from the infectious lesion but sufficiently close to contain antigens from the relevant pathogen. After a limited period of time in this setting (i.e., lymph node), antibodies produced by B cells and effector-memory T cells, can be released into the circulation and will localize at the site of infection. Soluble factors produced by resident tissue cells at the site of injury, by leukocytes and platelets that are recruited to the site of injury, and by memory T cells ultimately recruited to the area, all conspire to generate an evolving and effective response to a challenge to host defense. Most important, the level of this response must be appropriate to the challenge and the duration of the response must be transient; that is, long enough to decisively eliminate the pathogen, but short enough to minimize damage to healthy host tissues. Much of the cell-to-cell communication involved in the coordination of this response is accomplished by cytokines.

Cytokines (which include the large family of chemokines, discussed in Chapter 12) are soluble polypeptide mediators that play pivotal roles in communication between cells of the hematopoietic system and other cells in the body.1 Cytokines influence many aspects of leukocyte function including differentiation, growth, activation, and migration. While many cytokines are substantially upregulated in response to injury to allow a rapid and potent host response, cytokines also play important roles in the development of the immune system and in homeostatic control of the immune system under basal conditions. The growth and differentiation effects of cytokines are not limited to leukocytes, although we will not discuss soluble factors that principally mediate cell growth and differentiation of cells other than leukocytes in this chapter. The participation of cytokines in many parts of immune and inflammatory responses has prompted the examination of a variety of cytokines or cytokine antagonists ...

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