Interleukin-17 (IL-17) is produced by a subset of CD4(+) T helper (Th) lymphocytes known as Th17 cells. In humans, IL-1β, enhanced by IL-6 and IL-23 is crucial for differentiation of these cells. IL-17 evokes inflammation and is involved in host defence against microorganisms, although little is known about its role in diseases caused by non-tuberculous mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium contains both obligate and opportunistic pathogens as well as saprophytes, and the mycobacterial cell envelope is unique in its abundance of lipids. Here we investigated IL-17 and IL-23 production in human PBMC in response to intact UV-inactivated mycobacteria and mycobacterial surface lipids from two opportunistic (Mycobacterium avium and Mycobacterium abscessus) and one generally non-pathogenic (Mycobacterium gordonae) species. Representative Gram-positive (Enterococcus faecalis, Streptococcus mitis) and Gram-negative (Escherichia coli) bacteria were included as controls. Intact mycobacteria induced production of large amounts of IL-17, while IL-17 responses to control bacteria were negligible. Purified CD4(+) T cells, but not CD4-depleted cell fractions, produced this IL-17. Isolated mycobacterial surface lipids induced IL-17, but not IL-23 production. The ability of the non-tuberculous mycobacteria to induce IL-17 production in CD4(+) T cells was the same regardless of the pathogenic potential of the particular mycobacterial species.
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