B lymphocytes are generally recognized for their potential to mediate humoral immunity by producing different antibody isotypes and being involved in opsonization and complement fixation. Nevertheless, the non-classical, antibody-independent immune potential of B cell subsets has attracted much attention especially in the past decade. These B cells can release a broad variety of cytokines (such as IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, IL-17, IFN-α, IFN-γ, TNF-α, TGF-β, LT), and can be classified into distinct subsets depending on the particular cytokine profile, thus emerging the concept of cytokine-producing B cell subsets. Although there is still controversy surrounding the key cell surface markers, intracellular factors and cellular origins of cytokine-producing B cell subsets, accumulating evidence indicates that these B cells are endowed with great potential to regulate both innate and adaptive arms of immune system though releasing cytokines. On the one hand, they promote immune responses through mounting Th1/Th2/Th17 and neutrophil response, inducing DC maturation and formation of lymphoid structures, increasing NK cell and macrophage activation, enhancing development of themselves and sustaining antibody production. On the other hand, they can negatively regulate immune responses by suppressing Th cell responses, inhibiting Tr1 cell and Foxp3(+) Treg differentiation, impairing APC function and pro-inflammatory cytokine release by monocytes, and inducing CD8(+) T cell anergy and CD4(+) T cell apoptosis. Therefore, cytokine-producing B cell subsets have multifunctional functions in health and diseases, playing pathologic as well as protective roles in autoimmunity, infection, allergy, and even malignancy. In this review, we revisit the history of discovering cytokine-producing B cells, describe the identification of cytokine-producing B cell subsets, introduce the origins of cytokine-producing B cell subsets as well as molecular and cellular mechanisms for their differentiation, and summarize the recent progress made toward understanding the unexpectedly complex and potentially opposing roles of cytokine-producing B cells in immunological disorders.
Keywords: Autoimmune disease; Cancer; Cytokine-producing B cells; Immune regulation; Infection.
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