Following Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) stimulation of macrophages, negative feedback mediated by the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) limits the inflammatory response. However, extensive cell-to-cell variability in TLR4-stimulated cytokine secretion raises questions about how negative feedback is robustly implemented. To explore this, we characterize the TLR4-stimulated secretion program in primary murine macrophages using a single-cell microwell assay that enables evaluation of functional autocrine IL-10 signaling. High-dimensional analysis of single-cell data reveals three tiers of TLR4-induced proinflammatory activation based on levels of cytokine secretion. Surprisingly, while IL-10 inhibits TLR4-induced activation in the highest tier, it also contributes to the TLR4-induced activation threshold by regulating which cells transition from non-secreting to secreting states. This role for IL-10 in restraining TLR4 inflammatory activation is largely mediated by intermediate interferon (IFN)-β signaling, while TNF likely mediates response resolution by IL-10. Thus, cell-to-cell variability in cytokine regulatory motifs provides a means to tailor the TLR4-induced inflammatory response.
Keywords: IL-10; TLR4 signaling; macrophage; single-cell measurements.
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