J Autoimmun 2013 Sep 4;45:40-8. Epub 2013 Jul 4.
Department of Medicine, Arthritis Center/Rheumatology Section, Boston University School of Medicine, 72 East Concord Street, E519, Boston, MA 02118, USA. Electronic address:
Interleukin-7 (IL-7) is a critical survival factor for lymphocytes and recent studies suggest targeting the IL-7/IL-7Rα pathway holds promise for the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Several lines of evidence, genetic as well as functional, indicate an important role for this cytokine in autoimmune inflammation: polymorphisms in the IL-7Rα have been associated with increased risk for autoimmune disease and blocking IL-7/IL-7Rα with antibodies showed therapeutic efficacy in several autoimmune mouse models. Insights are starting to emerge about the mechanisms underlying IL-7's role in autoimmunity and tolerance, revealing surprising novel functions beyond its traditional activity as a T cell survival factor. In the first part of this review, the functions of IL-7 in the immune system are concisely described, providing a basis for understanding their potential role in promoting autoimmune responses. In the second part, current knowledge about the role of IL-7 in various autoimmune conditions is reviewed.