Single-cell analysis by RT-PCR reveals differential expression of multiple type 1 and 2 cytokine genes among cells within polarized CD4+ T cell populations

Int Immunol. 1999 Apr;11(4):617-21. doi: 10.1093/intimm/11.4.617.


RT-PCR was used to examine the expression of IFN-gamma, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6 and IL-10 mRNAs by single murine CD4+ T cells activated either in a strongly type 1-polarized mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) or in the type 2-polarized response to immunization with keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) in alum. The frequencies of expression of each cytokine differed markedly between the two responses, consistent with their polarization at the population level. However, most cells expressed only none to three of the six cytokines assayed, few displayed the canonical type 1 profile and none in either response expressed a full type 2 or type 0 profile. A significant fraction of cells co-expressed IFN-gamma with IL-4 and/or other type 2 cytokines at frequencies that suggested that most of these genes were independently regulated. Collectively, these single-cell expression patterns indicate that polarization at the population level can mask substantial intercellular heterogeneity, and show directly that multiple type 1 and 2 cytokines can be expressed simultaneously in an individual T cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cytokines / genetics*
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Hemocyanins / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Culture Test, Mixed
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Th1 Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / immunology


  • Cytokines
  • Hemocyanins