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Developmental Immunology
Volume 6 (1998), Issue 3-4, Pages 233-243

Glucocorticoids Induce a TH2 Response In Vitro

Medical Research Council, Cellular Immunology Unit, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3RE, UK

Received 15 August 1996; Accepted 23 August 1997

Copyright © 1998 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Purified rat CD4+ T cells were activated in vitro, by the polyclonal mitogen Concanavalin A (Con A) or by mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR), in the presence or absence of the glucocorticoid dexamethasone (DEX). They were then expanded in IL-2 and subsequently restimulated, this time in the absence of the hormone. The results indicate that the exposure of the cells to DEX in the primary stimulation changed the cytokine synthesis induced by the secondary stimulation. IL-4 production was increased by the pretreatment whereas synthesis of IFN-γ was diminished. Addition of DEX in the second activation suppressed all cytokine production. In brief, the transient presence of glucocorticoids in the culture induces a change in the pattern of cytokine production but the continuous presence causes inhibition of cytokine synthesis. Further studies in which IL-4 was used together with DEX showed that the cytokine potentiated the effect of the hormone.

The data here presented suggest that glucocorticoids and the neuroendocrine system may be expected to have long-term immunological effects as well as short-lived immunosuppressive ones. High concentration of glucocorticoids suppress cytokine production but when steroids return to basal levels the immune response is directed in a way that favors Th2-type reactions. Possible implications regarding the immune response to pathogens and autoantigens are discussed.