Cytokines comprise a large family of secreted ligands that are critical for the regulation of immune homeostasis. Cytokines initiate signaling via dimerization or oligomerization of the cognate receptor subunits, triggering the activation of the Janus Kinases (JAKs)/ signal transducer and activator of transcription (STATs) pathway and the induction of specific gene expression programs and bioactivities. Deregulation of cytokines or their downstream signaling pathways are at the root of many human disorders including autoimmunity and cancer. Identifying and understanding the mechanistic principles that govern cytokine signaling will, therefore, be highly important in order to harness the therapeutic potential of cytokines. In this review, we will analyze how biophysical (ligand-receptor binding geometry and affinity) and cellular (receptor trafficking and intracellular abundance of signaling molecules) parameters shape the cytokine signalosome and cytokine functional pleiotropy; from the initial cytokine binding to its receptor to the degradation of the cytokine receptor complex in the proteasome and/or lysosome. We will also discuss how combining advanced protein engineering with detailed signaling and functional studies has opened promising avenues to tackle complex questions in the cytokine signaling field.
Keywords: JAK/STAT signaling pathway; cytokine signaling; endosomal trafficking; endosomes signaling; protein engineering.