Cytokines regulate cellular immune activity and are produced by a variety of cells, especially lymphocytes, monocytes, and macrophages. Multiparameter flow cytometry is often used to examine cell-specific cytokine production after in vitro phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate and ionomycin induction, with brefeldin A or other agents added to inhibit protein secretion. Spontaneous ex vivo production reportedly rarely occurs. We examined the spontaneous production of interleukin 2 (IL-2), IL-4, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), and gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) by peripheral-blood B lymphocytes, T cells, CD8(-) T cells, CD8(+) T cells, CD3(-) CD16/56(+) lymphocytes (natural killer [NK] cells), CD3(+) CD16/56(+) lymphocytes (natural T [NT] cells), and/or monocytes of 316 acutely ill hospitalized persons and 62 healthy adults in Malawi, Africa. We also evaluated the relationship between spontaneous and induced cytokine production. In patients, spontaneous TNF-alpha production occurred most frequently, followed in descending order by IFN-gamma, IL-8, IL-4, IL-10, IL-6, and IL-2. Various cells of 60 patients spontaneously produced TNF-alpha; for 12 of these patients, TNF-alpha was the only cytokine produced spontaneously. Spontaneous cytokine production was most frequent in the immunoregulatory cells, NK and NT. For IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-8, and IL-10, spontaneous cytokine production was associated with greater induced production. For TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma, the relationships varied by cell type. For healthy adults, IL-6 was the cytokine most often produced spontaneously. Spontaneous cytokine production was not unusual in these acutely ill and healthy persons living in an area where human immunodeficiency virus, mycobacterial, malaria, and assorted parasitic infections are endemic. In such populations, spontaneous, as well as induced, cell-specific cytokine production should be measured and evaluated in relation to various disease states.
Walker D, Jason J, Wallace K, Slaughter J, Whatley V, Han A, Nwanyanwu OC, Kazembe PN, Dobbie H, Archibald L, Jarvis WR
Clin. Diagn. Lab. Immunol. 2002 Sep;9(5):1049-56