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In Vivo Clearance of an Intracellular Bacterium, Francisella tularensis LVS, Is Dependent on the p40 Subunit of Interleukin-12 (IL-12) but Not on IL-12 p70

  • Karen L. Elkins
  • Allison Cooper
  • Susan M. Colombini
  • Siobhán C. Cowley
  • Tara L. Kieffer
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
Apr 01, 2002
  • Biology


To determine the role of interleukin-12 (IL-12) in primary and secondary immunity to a model intracellular bacterium, we have comprehensively evaluated infection with Francisella tularensis LVS in three murine models of IL-12 deficiency. Mice lacking the p40 protein of IL-12 (p40 knockout [KO] mice) and mice treated in vivo with neutralizing anti-IL-12 antibodies survived large doses of primary and secondary LVS infection but never cleared bacteria and exhibited a chronic infection. In dramatic contrast, mice lacking the p35 protein (p35 KO mice) of heterodimeric IL-12 readily survived large doses of primary sublethal LVS infection as well as maximal secondary lethal challenge, with only a slight delay in clearance of bacteria. LVS-immune wild-type (WT) lymphocytes produced large amounts of gamma interferon (IFN-γ), but p35 KO and p40 KO lymphocytes produced much less; nonetheless, similar amounts of NO were found in all cultures containing immune lymphocytes, and all immune lymphocytes were equally capable of controlling intracellular growth of LVS in vitro. Purified CD4+ and CD8+ T cells from both WT and p40 KO mice controlled intracellular growth, even though T cells from WT mice produced much more IFN-γ than those from p40 KO mice, and p40 KO T cells did not adopt a Th2 phenotype. Thus, while IL-12 p70 stimulation of IFN-γ production may be important for bacteriostasis, IL-12 p70 is not necessary for appropriate development of LVS-immune T cells that are capable of controlling intracellular bacterial growth and for clearance of primary or secondary LVS infection. Instead, an additional mechanism dependent on the IL-12 p40 protein, either alone or in another complex such as the newly discovered heterodimer IL-23, appears to be responsible for actual clearance of this intracellular bacterium.

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