Soluble interleukin-15 complexes are generated in vivo by type I interferon dependent and independent pathways

PLoS One. 2015 Mar 10;10(3):e0120274. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120274. eCollection 2015.


Interleukin (IL)-15 associates with IL-15Rα on the cell surface where it can be cleaved into soluble cytokine/receptor complexes that have the potential to stimulate CD8 T cells and NK cells. Unfortunately, little is known about the in vivo production of soluble IL-15Rα/IL-15 complexes (sIL-15 complexes), particularly regarding the circumstances that induce them and the mechanisms responsible. The main objective of this study was to elucidate the signals leading to the generation of sIL-15 complexes. In this study, we show that sIL-15 complexes are increased in the serum of mice in response to Interferon (IFN)-α. In bone marrow derived dendritic cells (BMDC), IFN-α increased the activity of ADAM17, a metalloproteinase implicated in cleaving IL-15 complexes from the cell surface. Moreover, knocking out ADAM17 in BMDCs prevented the ability of IFN-α to induce sIL-15 complexes demonstrating ADAM17 as a critical protease mediating cleavage of IL-15 complexes in response to type I IFNs. Type I IFN signaling was required for generating sIL-15 complexes as in vivo induction of sIL-15 complexes by Poly I:C stimulation or total body irradiation (TBI) was impaired in IFNAR-/- mice. Interestingly, serum sIL-15 complexes were also induced in mice infected with Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) or mice treated with agonistic CD40 antibodies; however, sIL-15 complexes were still induced in IFNAR-/- mice after VSV infection or CD40 stimulation indicating pathways other than type I IFNs induce sIL-15 complexes. Overall, this study has shown that type I IFNs, VSV infection, and CD40 stimulation induce sIL-15 complexes suggesting the generation of sIL-15 complexes is a common event associated with immune activation. These findings reveal an unrealized mechanism for enhanced immune responses occurring during infection, vaccination, inflammation, and autoimmunity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD40 Antigens / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Interferon-alpha / physiology*
  • Interleukin-15 / blood*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta / metabolism
  • Vesicular Stomatitis / blood
  • Whole-Body Irradiation


  • CD40 Antigens
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Interleukin-15
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta