Major histocompatibility complex regulation of cytokine production

J Interferon Cytokine Res. 1996 Dec;16(12):983-8. doi: 10.1089/jir.1996.16.983.


This review describes the phenomenon of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) control of cytokine production both in experimental animals and in humans. H-2 (mouse MHC) regulates which type of cytokine is selectively produced in response to the hapten trinitrophenyl (TNP). T cells from TNP-immune H-2k mice produce interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), interleukin-2 (IL-2), IL-3, IL-5, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), IL-10, and very low levels of IL-4 on reexposure to the specific antigen in vitro. By contrast, T cells from H-2d mice produce IL-3, TNF-alpha, IL-10, and IL-4 but very low levels of IL-2, IL-5 and IFN-gamma. As MHC-congenic matched strains (BALB/k and BALB/c) are used, this makes it unlikely that non-MHC genes influence the class of response observed. A similar pattern of haplotype regulation of cytokine production is observed in humans. In fact, peripheral blood mononuclear cells from HLA-B8,DR3-positive and negative individuals differ in their ability to produce IL-2, IL-5, and IFN-gamma on stimulation with the mitogen phytohemagglutinin while producing similar amounts of IL-4, IL-6, and IL-10. The following main considerations emerge from these observations. The MHC/peptide complex generated after antigen immunization, indicates which class of cytokine production is preferentially induced and, therefore, the outcome of the immune response. Furthermore, MHC genotype may affect cytokine production (and then immune responses) by completely different mechanism(s), that is, by an antigen-nonspecific control that does not depend on the ability of MHC molecules to bind in different ways the different peptides. Accurate control of the functional repertoire of an immune response is a critical parameter in response to infections as well as in immunopathology. MHC control of the class of the immune response at the level of cytokine production is a sophisticated way in which this occurs. This control might be involved in adaptive immune responses to infections as well as in immunopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis*
  • H-2 Antigens / immunology
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Interleukins / biosynthesis
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / biosynthesis


  • Cytokines
  • H-2 Antigens
  • Interleukins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interferon-gamma