Tolerance of monocytes/macrophages to endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide [LPS]) can be induced both in vivo and in vitro by LPS itself. Exposure to LPS, even at a very low dose, induces a downregulation of cytokine response to a second high dose LPS challenge. To learn more about the unknown mechanisms of this phenomenon, we studied the role of antiinflammatory cytokines in this process. Preculture of human peripheral blood monocytes for 24 hours with low concentrations of LPS induced hyporesponsiveness to high-dose LPS rechallenge with respect to tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha and interleukin (IL) 10 but not IL-1RA production. These results suggest that LPS tolerance reflects a functional switch of monocytes rather than a general LPS hyporesponsiveness. IL-10 and transforming growth factor (TGF) beta 1 showed additive effects in replacing LPS for induction of LPS hyporesponsiveness in vitro. Additionally, neutralizing anti-IL-10 and anti-TGF-beta monoclonal antibodies prevented induction of LPS tolerance. In vitro induced LPS tolerance looks like the ex vivo LPS hyporesponsiveness of monocytes from septic patients with fatal outcome: downregulation of LPS-induced TNF-alpha and IL-10 production but not of IL-1RA secretion. LPS hyporesponsiveness in septic patients was preceded by expression of IL-10 at both the mRNA and protein level. In summary, our data suggests that IL-10 and TGF-beta mediate the phenomenon of LPS tolerance in vitro and perhaps in vivo (septic patients), too.

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