IFN-γ is a signature Th1 cell associated cytokine critical for the inflammatory response in autoimmunity with both pro-inflammatory and potentially protective functions. IL-17A is the hallmark of T helper 17 (Th17) cell subsets, produced by γδT, CD8+ T, NK and NKT cells. We have taken advantage of our colony of IL-2Rα-/- mice that spontaneously develop both autoimmune cholangitis and inflammatory bowel disease. In this model CD8+ T cells mediate biliary ductular damage, whereas CD4+ T cells mediate induction of colon-specific autoimmunity. Importantly, IL-2Rα-/- mice have high levels of interferon γ (IFN-γ), and interleukin-17A (IL-17A). We produced unique double deletions of mice that were either IL-17A-/-IL-2Rα-/- or IFN-γ-/-IL-2Rα-/- to specifically address the precise role of these two cytokines in the natural history of autoimmune cholangitis and colitis. Of note, deletion of IL-17A in IL-2Rα-/- mice led to more severe liver inflammation, but ameliorated colitis. In contrast, there were no significant changes in the immunopathology of double knock-out IFN-γ-/- IL-2Rα-/- mice, compared to single knock-out IL-2Rα-/- mice with respect to cholangitis or colitis. Furthermore, there was a significant increase in pathogenetic CD8+ T cells in the liver of IL-17A-/-IL-2Rα-/- mice. Our data suggest that while IL-17A plays a protective role in autoimmune cholangitis, it has a pro-inflammatory role in inflammatory bowel disease. These data take on particular significance in the potential use of anti-IL-17A therapy in humans with primary biliary cirrhosis.
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