Cytokines have been shown to be powerful regulators of the immune response. In this study, we analyze the effect that the newly recognized cytokine interleukin (IL)-15 has on proliferation and cytokine induction using peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and purified CD4+ T cells from patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) who are at various stages in their disease. We observed that IL-15 enhances the proliferative response in a dose-dependent manner from PBMCs of HIV-infected individuals when stimulated by polyclonal mitogen, tetanus toxoid, or HIV-specific antigen. The effects of exogenous IL-15 are substantially diminished by adding a neutralizing antibody to the beta chain of the IL-2 receptor. Moreover, the ability of IL-15 to increase proliferation is enhanced by the presence of endogenous IL-2 produced in the cultures. The effect that exogenous IL-15 had on IL-2, IL-4, and interferon (IFN)-gamma induction from PBMC's or CD4+ T cells in response to mitogen or tetanus toxoid was also examined. This was compared to the effect that exogenous IL-2 and IL-12 had under the same conditions. Addition of IL-2 or IL-15 to short-term in vitro cultures of either PBMCs or CD4+ T cells had little effect on IL-2, IL-4, or IFN-gamma production. By contrast, IL-12 caused substantial enhancement of both IL-2 and IFN-gamma production from these cultures. The role that endogenous cytokines have on IFN-gamma induction was also studied. Addition of a neutralizing antibody to the alpha chain of the IL-2 receptor or IL-12 to antigen stimulated cultures caused a striking decrease in IFN-gamma production. Neutralization of endogenous IL-15 also resulted in diminished IFN-gamma production from cultures stimulated with mitogen. IL-4 and IFN-gamma protein production by PBMCs and CD4+ T cells stimulated with mitogen was assessed to see if we could detect a specific bias of cytokine production. Small amounts of IL-4 were detected from CD4+ T cells but not PBMCs from most individuals tested. IFN-gamma and IL-2, however, were also produced from these same cultures. These results further elucidate the mechanism of cytokine regulation in HIV-infected individuals, and they provide evidence that IL-15 may be a useful immune modulator.

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