Interleukin 4-targeted (IL-4-/-) mice are defective in T helper (Th)2 cytokine production as determined after nematode infection. As Th2 cells appear to be selectively induced by oral immunization we investigated the ability of IL-4-/- mice to respond to perorally administered antigen. We found that IL-4-/- mice failed to respond to soluble protein antigens given perorally together with cholera toxin (CT) as a mucosal adjuvant. In contrast to wild-type mice no or poor anti-keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) or anti-ovalbumin (OVA) B cell responses were observed in gut lamina propria, spleen, or serum of IL-4-/- mice after oral immunization. In addition, mucosal immunization failed to stimulate antigen-specific T cell responses in these mice. The lack of responsiveness was specific for mucosal administration of antigen and was not seen after intravenous injections with antigen and CT-adjuvant. The systemic adjuvant effect of CT was not impaired in IL-4-/- mice as evidenced by the strong enhancement of anti-KLH responses after intravenous immunization with KLH plus CT as opposed to KLH alone. However, CT as an immunogen, in contrast to KLH or OVA, stimulated significant mucosal and systemic immune responses in IL-4-/- mice after oral immunization. Both serum and intestinal IgA anti-CT antibodies were demonstrable in IL-4-/- mice as well as in wild-type mice. Total IgA levels in gut lavage and in serum of immunized IL-4-/- mice were of similar magnitude as in wild-type mice, suggesting that the ability of naive B cells to undergo isotype switch-differentiation from IgM to IgA in IL-4-/- mice did not appear to be impaired. Immunohistochemical analysis of Peyer's patches demonstrated a complete inability to form germinal centers in IL-4-/- mice in contrast to wild-type mice. Our data suggest that IL-4-/- mice are unable to respond to oral/mucosal immunization due to a failure to stimulate antigen-specific cells required to induce germinal center reactions in the Peyer's patches. Our findings demonstrate that IL-4 and probably functional Th2 cells are required for induction of gut mucosal antibody responses.

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