The recombinant cytokines IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha stimulate several macrophage-mediated functions important in host defense. However, systemic administration of cytokines may be limited by significant host toxicity. We investigated whether aerosolized cytokines can stimulate alveolar macrophage and blood monocyte function, and whether they induce an inflammatory response in the lungs of normal rats. We found that aerosolized murine rIFN-gamma or recombinant human TNF-alpha increased IL-1 production by both alveolar macrophages and blood monocytes for at least 5 days after administration. Furthermore, murine rIFN-gamma increased the expression of Ia Ag on alveolar macrophages and human rTNF-alpha increased alveolar macrophage- and blood monocyte-mediated tumor lysis. Sequential aerosolization of IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha significantly increased both IL-1 release and Ia expression compared to either cytokine administered alone. Aerosolized human rTNF-alpha achieved lung levels comparable to those produced by an i.v. TNF-alpha dose reported to cause diffuse organ injury and death in rats. However, plasma TNF-alpha levels were several thousand-fold lower after aerosol administration. Aerosolized cytokines did not induce lung edema or an inflammatory cell infiltrate within the airways or alveoli. Aerosolized human rTNF-alpha alone, or murine rIFN-gamma and human rTNF-alpha, induced margination of leukocytes in pulmonary blood vessels 1 day after aerosolization, and a few small foci of pulmonary hemorrhage 5 days later. We conclude that aerosol administration of IFN-gamma or TNF-alpha enhances both pulmonary and systemic monocyte function, and that the combination of IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha produce additive or synergistic effects. Aerosolized cytokines induce only a minimal pulmonary inflammatory response. Aerosolized TNF-alpha produces high cytokine levels in the lung but very low uptake into the circulation.

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