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Keywords:

  • interferon-γ;
  • interleukin-27;
  • macrophages;
  • neonate;
  • T cells

Summary

Microbial infections are a major cause of infant mortality worldwide because of impaired immune defences in this population. The nature of this work was to further understand the mechanistic limitations of the neonatal and infant immune response. Interleukin-27 (IL-27) is a heterodimeric cytokine of the IL-12 family that is produced primarily by antigen-presenting cells and is immunosuppressive toward a variety of immune cell types. We show that IL-27 gene expression is elevated in cord blood-derived macrophages relative to macrophages originating from healthy adults. We also evaluated the duration over which elevated IL-27 gene expression may impact immune responses in mice. Age-dependent analysis of IL-27 gene expression indicated that levels of IL-27 remained significantly elevated throughout infancy and then declined in adult mice. Flow cytometric analysis of intracellular cytokine-stained splenocytes further confirmed these results. Interleukin-27 may be induced during pregnancy to contribute to the immunosuppressive environment at the fetal–maternal interface because we demonstrate dose-responsive gene expression to progesterone in macrophages. Neutralization of IL-27 in neonatal macrophages improved the ability of these cells to limit bacterial replication. Moreover, neutralization of IL-27 during incubation with the Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccine augmented the level of interferon-γ elicited from allogeneic CD4+ T lymphocytes. This suggests that blocking IL-27 during vaccination and infection may improve immune responses in newborn and infant populations. Furthermore, mice will be a suitable model system to further address these possibilities.