Substance P (SP), a tachykinin neuropeptide, has been previously reported to stimulate IL-2 production in murine T cell lines activated with phorbol esters. Here we extend these observations by establishing the stimulatory effect of SP and related tachykinins on IL-2 production by normal murine lymphocytes and on purified CD4+ T cells. SP proved to be the most efficient IL-2 inducer, exerting its maximal effect at concentrations that were 4 to 5 orders of magnitude lower than the optimal stimulatory concentrations of physalaemin, NKA, or NKB. SP stimulated IL-2 production in a dose-dependent manner, with an optimal concentration range of 10(-10) to 10(-14) M, comparable with physiologic concentrations of SP found in blood and other organs. The effect of SP was carried by the carboxyl-terminal part of the molecule (SP4-11). The specificity of SP activity was confirmed by the inhibitory effect of spantide, a tachykinin antagonist, and of CP-96,345, a nonpeptide antagonist specific for NK-1-type receptors. In unfractionated spleen cell cultures SP induced de novo IL-2 protein synthesis. SP could induce IL-2 production either directly, or in combination with Con A or anti-CD3 antibody treatments. The effect of SP in conjunction with Con A was synergistic, whereas the effect in conjunction with anti-CD3 antibodies was additive, suggesting different molecular mechanisms for these stimulatory factors. In the absence of additional costimuli the effect of SP in unfractionated spleen cell cultures was partially mediated through the induction of IL-1, and both SP and IL-1 were required for IL-2 induction in purified CD4+ T cells. In contrast to its stimulatory effect on the generation of IL-2, SP did not induce IFN-gamma production in murine spleen cells. The stimulatory effect of SP on IL-2 production suggests that some of the already described immunostimulatory activities of SP could be mediated through the up-regulation of IL-2 production in normal lymphocytes.

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