BackgroundSilicosis features foci of inflammation where macrophages and lymphocytes precede and accompany fibroblast proliferation, alveolar epithelial hyperplasia, and increased deposition of connective tissue matrix material. In the mouse following silica inhalation there is recruitment of natural killer-, B-, and CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocytes to the alveolar spaces, enlargement of bronchial-associated lymphoid tissues (BALT), and aggregation of lymphocytes surrounding small airways and blood vessels. A substantial fraction of the recruited lung lymphocytes produce interferon-γ (IFN-γ), and IFN-γ gene-deleted mice develop less silicosis than wild-type mice. Interleukin-12 (IL-12) is an important pathway for driving the adaptive immune response towards a TH1-like phenotype. We hypothesized that IL-12 might stimulate lymphocyte activation and the up-regulation of IFN-γ, and consequently be an essential mediator for silicosis.ResultsC57Bl/6 wild-type (WT) and IL-12 deficient (IL-12 KO) mice were exposed to sham-air or crystobalite silica (61 mg/m3) by inhalation for 5 hours/day for 12 days and then studied from 1 to 112 days after exposure. Mice exposed to sham-air had normal lung histology at all time points. WT mice exposed to titanium dioxide (72 mg/m3) showed pulmonary macrophage recruitment but no increase in lung collagen. Both WT and IL-12 KO mice exposed to silica showed similar progressive lung pathology, increased wet lung weight and increased total lung collagen (hydroxyproline). IL-12 p35 mRNA was not increased in either strain after silica exposure; IL-12 p40 mRNA was up-regulated after silica in WT mice and constitutively absent in the IL-12 KO mice. IL-18 mRNA was not increased after silica exposure. The expression of IL-15 (an important driver for innate immunity, Natural Killer cell activation, and IFN-γ production) was abundant in air-exposed mice and was increased slightly in the lungs of mice with silicosis.ConclusionThe axis of IL-12 driving IFN-γ production is not essential for the full manifestations of silicosis in mice exposed to a crystobalite silica aerosol.