IL-15 is a pleiotropic cytokine with IL-2-like functions. As IL-15 was shown to be mitogenic for T cells, we wondered whether human blood-derived dendritic cells (DC), as the primary stimulators of T cell responses, are able to produce IL-15. To test our hypothesis, DC were grown under serum-free conditions from human peripheral blood using granulocyte-macrophage CSF and IL-4. Cultures were assayed for IL-15 mRNA production at various times by semiquantitative reverse transcription-PCR. Low baseline signals were detected from days 0 to 5 of culture. A significant increase was detected from days 5 to 9 of the culture. When DC were further enriched by immunomagnetic beads to >98% purity as determined by CD83 staining, IL-15 mRNA signals were exclusively found in the CD83+ fraction. This increase in mRNA signals was paralleled by IL-15 protein release from days 9 to 12 as detected by CTLL-2 assay and ELISA. In addition, protein levels were increased >10-fold by adding paramagnetic beads to the cultures, thereby inducing phagocytic activity. Furthermore, DC supernatants were tested for chemokinetic and chemotactic activities for T cells in a checkerboard filter assay. It was shown that supernatants express chemokinetic and chemotactic activity for T cells. This activity was blocked almost completely by addition of an anti-IL-15 mAb. Our data show that human blood DC contain IL-15 mRNA and produce functional protein that is induced in culture. Protein release is triggered by phagocytic activity. Furthermore, DC-derived IL-15 has chemotactic and chemokinetic activities for T cells, suggesting a role for IL-15 as an attractant of T cells during the initial DC/T cell interaction.

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