Commitment of T helper 1 (Th1) or Th2 populations developing during an immune response to a pathogen, or an inappropriate immune response to an allergen or autoantigen, may determine the difference between health and chronic disease. We show that strongly polarized Th1 and Th2 populations assessed by immunoassay are heterogeneous using flow cytometry to detect single cells producing interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) and interleukin 4 (IL-4). Th1 populations arising after 1 wk of stimulation in IL-12 plus anti-IL-4 antibodies could convert to Th2 cells when restimulated in IL-4. Th2 populations resulting from stimulation for 1 wk in IL-4 could give rise to Th1 cells upon restimulation in IL-12 plus anti-IL-4. In contrast, the cytokine profiles of long-term Th1 and Th2 populations arising originally from repeated stimulation in IL-12 or IL-4 appeared more homogeneous and were not reversible, although IL-4 dramatically reduced the number of IFN-gamma-producing Th1 cells. This may explain previous reports that Th1 cells can be converted to Th2 cells.

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