PLoS One 2012 20;7(9):e45299. Epub 2012 Sep 20.
Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, Department of Biomedical Molecular Biology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
Due to its critical role in NK cell differentiation and CD8(+) T cell homeostasis, the importance of IL-15 is more firmly established for cytolytic effectors of the immune system than for CD4(+) T cells. The increased levels of IL-15 found in several CD4(+) T cell-driven (auto-) immune diseases prompted us to examine how IL-15 influences murine CD4(+) T cell responses to low dose TCR-stimulation in vitro. We show that IL-15 exerts growth factor activity on both CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells in a TCR-dependent and Cyclosporin A-sensitive manner. In CD4(+) T cells, IL-15 augmented initial IL-2-dependent expansion and once IL-15Rα was upregulated, IL-15 sustained the TCR-induced expression of IL-2/15Rβ, supporting proliferation independently of secreted IL-2. Moreover, IL-15 counteracts CD4(+) T cell suppression by a gradually expanding CD25(High)CD4(+) T cell subset that expresses Foxp3 and originates from CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs. These in vitro data suggest that IL-15 may dramatically strengthen the T cell response to suboptimal TCR-triggering by overcoming an activation threshold set by Treg that might create a risk for autoimmune pathology.