Recent data suggest that the newly discovered cytokine IL-15 cooperates with IL-2 in driving T cell-mediated immune responses. The aim of this study was to determine the role of IL-15 in the regulatory networks leading to the development of T cell alveolitis in the lung of patients with sarcoidosis. We demonstrated that alveolar macrophages (AMs) isolated from the bronchoalveolar lavage of patients with active sarcoidosis expressed IL-15 mRNA and membrane and cytoplasmic IL-15, while AMs from healthy subjects and patients with inactive sarcoidosis did not. Pulmonary CD4+ T cells from sarcoid patients were equipped with the IL-2R subunits, which are able to bind IL-15, i.e., the IL-2R beta/IL-2R gamma complex, and proliferated in response to IL-15. Interestingly, the T cell proliferation elicited by IL-15 was comparable with that determined by IL-2. Following the addition of graded amounts of IL-15, IL-2-pulsed T cells showed a significant increase in their stimulation. TNF-alpha up-regulated the IL-15-mediated proliferative response of bronchoalveolar lavage T lymphocytes. Following the block of the IL-2R beta- and gamma-chains with specific mAbs, the stimulatory activity of IL-15 was abolished. The evaluation of the IL-2R on sarcoid AMs demonstrated the constitutive expression of alpha- and gamma-chain mRNA and proteins. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that IL-15 triggers the growth of sarcoid T cells through the IL-2R beta/IL-2R-gamma complex and raise the possibility that AMs may deliver proliferative signals for the development of the T cell alveolitis. Modulation of IL-2R on AMs could represent a critical variable in regulating local inflammatory responses.

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