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Keywords:

  • CD4+ T cells;
  • Cytokine expression;
  • IFNs;
  • Memory cells;
  • Th cells

Human type I interferons (IFNs) include IFN-β and 12 subtypes of IFN-α. During viral infection, infiltrating memory CD4+ T cells are exposed to IFNs, but their impact on memory T-cell function is poorly understood. To address this, we pretreated PBMCs with different IFNs for 16 h before stimulation with Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin B and measured cytokine expression by flow cytometry. IFN-α8 and -α10 most potently enhanced expression of IFN-γ, IL-2, and IL-4. Potency among the subtypes differed most at doses between 10 and 100 U/mL. While enhancement of IL-2 and IL-4 correlated with the time of preincubation with type I IFN, IFN-γ production was enhanced best when IFN-α was added immediately preceding or simultaneously with T-cell stimulation. Comparison of T-cell responses to multiple doses of Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin B and to peptide libraries from RSV or CMV demonstrated that IFN-α best enhanced cytokine expression when CD4+ T cells were suboptimally stimulated. We conclude that type I IFNs enhance Th1 and Th2 function with dose dependency and subtype specificity, and best when T-cell stimulation is suboptimal. While type I IFNs may beneficially enhance CD4+ T-cell memory responses to vaccines or viral pathogens, they may also enhance the function of resident Th2 cells and exacerbate allergic inflammation.