Reciprocal CD40 signals through p38MAPK and ERK-1/2 induce counteracting immune responses

Nat Med. 2004 May;10(5):540-4. doi: 10.1038/nm1045. Epub 2004 Apr 25.


Macrophages play host to Leishmania major, a parasite that causes leishmaniasis in 500,000 people annually. Macrophage-expressed CD40, a costimulatory molecule, induces interleukin-12 (IL-12)-dependent and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma)-dependent host-protective immune responses to Leishmania and other intracellular pathogens. Paradoxically, IL-10, another CD40-induced cytokine in macrophages, promotes Leishmania infection. How CD40 signaling regulates the secretion of these two counteractive cytokines remains unknown. Here we show that weak CD40 signals induce extracellular stress-related kinase-1/2 (ERK-1/2)-dependent IL-10 expression, whereas stronger signals induce p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38MAPK)-dependent IL-12 production. p38MAPK and ERK-1/2 therefore have counter-regulatory actions. Leishmania skews CD40 signaling toward ERK-1/2, inducing IL-10, which inhibits activation of CD40-induced p38MAPK and expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase-2 (iNOS-2) and IL-12. ERK-1/2 inhibition or IL-10 neutralization restores CD40-induced p38MAPK activation and parasite killing in macrophages and the BALB/c mouse, a susceptible host. These data uncover a new immune evasion strategy, whereby Leishmania differentially modulates CD40-engaged, reciprocally functioning signaling modules, and provide a new conceptual framework for immune homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD40 Antigens / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Leishmania major / immunology*
  • Leishmania major / pathogenicity*
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / enzymology
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / immunology
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / parasitology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / metabolism*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases


  • CD40 Antigens
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases