In vitro and in vivo studies were performed to assess the involvement of IL-12 in resistance to acute and chronic infection with an avirulent strain of Toxoplasma gondii. Our previous findings implicated macrophages as a major source of parasite-induced IL-12. This finding was confirmed by showing that peritoneal macrophages exposed to either live parasites or soluble tachyzoite Ags produce IL-12 protein. In mice, increased expression of IL-12 (p40) mRNA in both spleen and peritoneal cells was detected as early as 2 days postinfection. Treatment with neutralizing mAbs against IL-12 increased the susceptibility of C57BL/6, BALB/c, and severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice to acute infection, which resulted in 100% mortality within the first 15 days after parasite inoculation. In contrast, neutralization of endogenously produced IL-12 had no effect when given during chronic infection. In agreement with the survival data, treatment with anti-IL-12 resulted in decreased IFN-gamma and enhanced Th2 (IL-4 and IL-10) cytokine synthesis by splenocytes when given during acute, but not chronic, toxoplasmosis. Sorting experiments on spleen cells from acutely infected mice indicated that both CD4+ lymphocytes and NK1.1+/CD3- cells contribute to the early IFN-gamma response. In contrast, CD4+ cells were found to be the major source of the cytokine during chronic disease. Together, these results suggest that the stimulation of macrophage-derived IL-12 plays a major role in both the induction of resistance and Th1 cell subset selection in acute T. gondii infection, but may not be required to maintain established immunity.

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