Distinct activation signals determine whether IL-21 induces B cell costimulation, growth arrest, or Bim-dependent apoptosis

Haoli Jin, Roberto Carrio, Aixin Yu, Thomas R. Malek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

214 Scopus citations


IL-21 costimulates B cell proliferation and cooperatively with IL-4 promotes T cell-dependent Ab responses. Somewhat paradoxically, IL-21 also induces apoptosis of B cells. The present study was undertaken to more precisely define the expression of the IL-21R, using a novel mAb, and the circumstances by which IL-21 promotes B cell growth vs death. The IL-21R was first detected during T and B cell development, such that this receptor is expressed by all mature lymphocytes. The IL-21R was further up-regulated after B and T activation, with the highest expression by activated B cells. Functional studies demonstrated that IL-21 substantially inhibited proliferation and induced Bim-dependent apoptosis for LPS or CpG DNA-activated B cells. In contrast, IL-21 induced both costimulation and apoptosis for anti-CD40-stimulated B cells, whereas IL-21 primarily costimulated B cells activated by anti-IgM or anti-IgM plus anti-CD40. Upon blocking apoptosis using C57BL/6 Bim-deficient or Bcl-2 transgenic B cells, IL-21 readily costimulated responses to anti-CD40 while proliferation to LPS was still inhibited. Engagement of CD40 or the BCR plus CD40 prevented the inhibitory effect by IL-21 for LPS-activated B cells. Collectively, these data indicate that there are three separable outcomes for IL-21-stimulated B cells: apoptosis, growth arrest, or costimulation. We favor a model in which IL-21 promotes B cell maturation during a productive T cell-dependent B cell response, while favoring growth arrest and apoptosis for nonspecifically or inappropriately activated B cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)657-665
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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