The braking mechanisms to protect the host from tissue damage and inflammatory disease caused by an overexuberant immune response are common in many T cell subsets. However, the negative regulation of T cell responses and detailed mechanisms are not well understood in early vertebrates. In the current study, using a Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) model, we investigated the suppression of T cell immunity by IL-10. Tilapia encodes an evolutionarily conserved IL-10, whose expression in lymphocytes is markedly induced during the primary adaptive immune response against Aeromonas hydrophila infection. Activated T cells of tilapia produce IL-10, which in turn inhibits proinflammatory cytokine expression and suppresses PHA-induced T cell activation. Moreover, administration of IL-10 impairs the proliferation of tilapia T cells, reduces their potential to differentiate into Th subsets, and cripples the cytotoxic function, rendering the animals more vulnerable to pathogen attack. After binding to its receptor IL-10Ra, IL-10 activates the JAK1/STAT3 axis by phosphorylation and enhances the expression of the suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3), which in turn attenuates the activation of the NF-κB and MAPK/ERK signaling pathways, thus suppressing the T cell response of tilapia. Our findings elucidate a negative regulatory mechanism of T cell immunity in a fish species and support the notion that the braking mechanism of T cells executed through IL-10 existed prior to the divergence of the tetrapod lineage from teleosts. Therefore, this study, to our knowledge, provides a novel perspective on the evolution of the adaptive immune system.

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