30 years ago, investigations into the molecular basis of the delayed-type hypersensitivity reaction (DTH) provided evidence for the first lymphokine activity: a lymphocyte-derived mediator called macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), which inhibited the random migration of peritoneal macrophages. Despite the long-standing association of MIF with the DTH reaction and the cloning of a human protein with macrophage migration inhibitory activity, the precise role of MIF in this classic cell-mediated immune response has remained undefined. This situation has been further complicated by the fact that two other cytokines, interferon gamma and IL-4, similarly inhibit macrophage migration and by the identification of mitogenic contaminants in some preparations of cloned human MIF. Using recently developed molecular probes for mouse MIF, we have examined the role of this protein in a classical model of DTH, the tuberculin reaction in mice. Both MIF messenger RNA and protein were expressed prominently in DTH lesions, as assessed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, in situ hybridization, and immunostaining with anti-MIF antibody. The predominant cellular origin of MIF appeared to be the monocyte/macrophage, a cell type identified recently to be a major source of MIF release in vivo. The administration of neutralizing anti-MIF antibodies to mice inhibited significantly the development of DTH, thus affirming the central role of MIF in this classic immunological response.

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