The Cytokines (OpenStax Microbiology)
Cytokines are soluble proteins that act as communication signals between cells. In a nonspecific innate immune response, various cytokines may be released to stimulate production of chemical mediators or other cell functions, such as cell proliferation, cell differentiation, inhibition of cell division, apoptosis, and chemotaxis.
When a cytokine binds to its target receptor, the effect can vary widely depending on the type of cytokine and the type of cell or receptor to which it has bound. The function of a particular cytokine can be described as autocrine, paracrine, or endocrine. In autocrine function, the same cell that releases the cytokine is the recipient of the signal; in other words, autocrine function is a form of self-stimulation by a cell. In contrast, paracrine function involves the release of cytokines from one cell to other nearby cells, stimulating some response from the recipient cells. Last, endocrine function occurs when cells release cytokines into the bloodstream to be carried to target cells much farther away.
Three important classes of cytokines are the interleukins, chemokines, and interferons. The interleukins were originally thought to be produced only by leukocytes (white blood cells) and to only stimulate leukocytes, thus the reasons for their name. Although interleukins are involved in modulating almost every function of the immune system, their role in the body is not restricted to immunity. Interleukins are also produced by and stimulate a variety of cells unrelated to immune defenses.
The chemokines are chemotactic factors that recruit leukocytes to sites of infection, tissue damage, and inflammation. In contrast to more general chemotactic factors, like complement factor C5a, chemokines are very specific in the subsets of leukocytes they recruit.
Interferons are a diverse group of immune signaling molecules and are especially important in our defense against viruses. Type I interferons (interferon-α and interferon-β) are produced and released by cells infected with virus. These interferons stimulate nearby cells to stop production of mRNA, destroy RNA already produced, and reduce protein synthesis. These cellular changes inhibit viral replication and production of mature virus, slowing the spread of the virus. Type I interferons also stimulate various immune cells involved in viral clearance to more aggressively attack virus-infected cells. Type II interferon (interferon-γ) is an important activator of immune cells.
Related Topic: Cytokine Release Effect
Related Research: Research Article: Dynamics of a Cytokine Storm
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology
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