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Clinical & Experimental Allergy

Immuno-regulatory cytokines in asthma: IL-15 and IL-13 in induced sputum


M. Komai-Koma, University Department of Immunology, Western Infirmary, Glasgow G11 6NT, UK. E-mail:


Background The importance of Th2-type lymphocyte function in asthmatic airway inflammation is well recognized, but less is known about the factors which regulate the function of these lymphocytes in asthma. The macrophage-derived cytokine, interleukin (IL)-15 has a number of T cell regulatory properties which might be of relevance to asthma and its treatment.

Objective The aims were to identify and quantify the T cell regulatory cytokine IL-15 in induced sputum samples from asthmatic patients, in comparison with IL-13, and to relate the levels of these cytokines to treatment with inhaled steroids.

Methods Induced sputum was collected from 16 asthmatics (eight steroid and eight non-steroid treated) and eight normal controls. IL-15 and IL-13 levels were measured by enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA) in sputum. IL-15 levels were also measured in sputum cell culture supernatants and localized to specific sputum cells by immuno-cytochemistry.

Results IL-15 levels were increased and IL-13 levels were decreased in sputum fluid from steroid-treated compared with non-steroid-treated asthmatics. IL-15 was localized specifically to macrophages and the proportion of these cells expressing IL-15 correlated with sputum fluid IL-15 and IL-15 levels in cell culture supernatants, and all were higher in the steroid-treated asthmatics.

Conclusion IL-15 and IL-13 production appears to be reciprocally regulated by steroid therapy in asthma patients. The steroid-associated increase in IL-15 may regulate a fundamental shift away from an inflammatory Th2-type environment in asthma and may be an essential component of the cytokine modulation underlying the therapeutic benefit of corticosteroids in this condition.

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