Butyrophilins (Btns) and butyrophilin-like (Btnl) molecules are emerging as novel regulators of immune responses in mice and humans. Several clues point to their probable importance: many of the genes are located within the MHC; they are structurally related to B7-co-stimulatory molecules; they are functionally implicated in T cell inhibition and in the modulation of epithelial cell-T cell interactions; and they are genetically associated with inflammatory diseases. Nonetheless, initial immersion into the current literature can uncover confusion over even basic information such as gene names and expression patterns, and seemingly conflicting data regarding the biological activities of different family members. This review addresses each of these issues, concluding with the attractive potential of Btn and Btnl molecules to act as specific attenuators of tissue-associated inflammatory responses.
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