Calcineurin inhibitors suppress cytokine production from memory T cells and differentiation of naïve T cells into cytokine-producing mature T cells

PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31465. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031465. Epub 2012 Feb 16.


T cells have been classified as belonging to the Th1 or Th2 subsets according to the production of defining cytokines such as IFN-γ and IL-4. The discovery of the Th17 lineage and regulatory T cells shifted the simple concept of the Th1/Th2 balance into a 4-way mechanistic pathway of local and systemic immunological activity. Clinically, the blockage of cytokine signals or non-specific suppression of cytokine predominance by immunosuppressants is the first-line treatment for inflammatory T cell-mediated disorders. Cyclosporine A (CsA) and Tacrolimus (Tac) are commonly used immunosuppressants for the treatment of autoimmune disease, psoriasis, and atopic disorders. Many studies have shown that these compounds suppress the activation of the calcium-dependent phosphatase calcineurin, thereby inhibiting T-cell activation. Although CsA and Tac are frequently utilized, their pharmacological mechanisms have not yet been fully elucidated.In the present study, we focused on the effects of CsA and Tac on cytokine secretion from purified human memory CD4(+)T cells and the differentiation of naïve T cells into cytokine-producing memory T cells. CsA or Tac significantly inhibited IFN-γ, IL-4, and IL-17 production from memory T cells. These compounds also inhibited T cell differentiation into the Th1, Th2, and Th17 subsets, even when used at a low concentration. This study provided critical information regarding the clinical efficacies of CsA and Tac as immunosuppressants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects*
  • Cyclosporine / pharmacology
  • Cytokines / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Male
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacology


  • Calcineurin Inhibitors
  • Cytokines
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Cyclosporine
  • Tacrolimus