The first experimental evidence for the development of polarized CD4+ Th1 and Th2 responses in vivo has been obtained using the murine model of infection with Leishmania major, an intracellular parasite of macrophages in their vertebrate host. Genetically determined resistance and susceptibility to infection with this parasite have been clearly demonstrated to result from the development of polarized Th1 and Th2 responses, respectively. Using this model system, the dominant role of cytokines in the induction of polarized CD4+ responses has been validated in vivo. The requisite role of IL-4 in mediating both Th2 differentiation and susceptibility to infection in BALB/c mice has directed interest towards the search for evidence of IL-4 production early after infection and identification of its cellular source. We have been able to demonstrate a burst of IL-4 production in susceptible BALB/c mice within the first day of infection with L. major and could establish that this rapidly produced IL-4 instructed Th2 lineage commitment of subsequently activated CD4+ T cells and stabilized this commitment by downregulating IL-12 Rβ2 chain expression, resulting in susceptibility to infection. Strikingly, this early IL-4 response to infection resulted from the cognate recognition of a single epitope in a distinctive antigen, LACK, from this complex microorganism by a restricted population of CD4+ T cells that express Vβ4-Vα8 T cell receptors.
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