Although interleukin-21 (IL-21) potently activates and controls the differentiation of immune cells after stimulation in vitro, the role for this pleiotropic cytokine during in vivo infection remains poorly defined. Herein, the requirement for IL-21 in innate and adaptive host defence after Listeria monocytogenes infection was examined. In the innate phase, IL-21 deficiency did not cause significant defects in infection susceptibility, or in the early activation of natural killer and T cells. In the adaptive phase, L. monocytogenes-specific CD8+ T cells expand to a similar magnitude in IL-21-deficient mice compared with control mice. Interestingly, the IL-21-independent expansion of L. monocytogenes-specific CD8+ T cells was maintained even in the combined absence of IL-12 and type I interferon (IFN) receptor. Similarly, L. monocytogenes-specific CD4+ T cells expanded and produced similar levels of IFN-γ regardless of IL-21 deficiency. Unexpectedly however, IL-21 deficiency caused significantly increased CD4+ T-cell IL-17 production, and this effect became even more pronounced after L. monocytogenes infection in mice with combined defects in both IL-12 and type I IFN receptor that develop a T helper type 17-dominated CD4+ T-cell response. Despite increased CD4+ T-cell IL-17 production, L. monocytogenes-specific T cells re-expanded and conferred protection against secondary challenge with virulent L. monocytogenes regardless of IL-21 deficiency, or combined defects in IL-21, IL-12, and type I IFN receptor. Together, these results demonstrate non-essential individual and combined roles for IL-21, IL-12 and type I IFNs in priming pathogen-specific CD8+ T cells, and reveal IL-21-dependent suppression of IL-17 production by CD4+ T cells during in vivo infection.
- T cell