Functional expression of CD40 has recently been described on the surface of HUVEC, and activation of these cells with CD40 ligand (CD40-L) leads to increased adhesion molecule expression. Here, we analyzed the effect of CD40 triggering on cytokine production by HUVEC. CD40-L-transfected fibroblasts, in contrast to their untransfected counterparts, as well as a soluble recombinant human CD40-L/murine CD8alpha chimeric molecule were able to importantly increase (by a mean of fourfold) the production of leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) by HUVEC. CD40-L displayed an additive effect with IL-4, IL-1alpha, and TNF-alpha on the enhancement of LIF secretion. Cyclosporin A did not affect LIF synthesis by resting or CD40-L-activated HUVEC, whereas dexamethasone diminished the basal level of LIF production and abrogated the CD40-L effect. The secretions of two other proinflammatory cytokines, granulocyte-macrophage CSF and IL-6, were also increased in the presence of CD40-L. However, CD40-L neither affected HUVEC proliferation nor rescued them from IFN-gamma- and TNF-alpha induced apoptosis. Together, these results indicate that endothelial cell activation by CD40-L may play an important role not only in leukocyte recruitment through enhancement of adhesion molecule expression, but also in the maintenance of an inflammatory loop through the increase in proinflammatory cytokine secretion.

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