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T cells recognizing poorly displayed self determinants escape tolerance mechanisms and persist in the adult repertoire. The process by which these T cells are primed is not clear, but once activated, they can cause autoimmunity. Here, we show that dendritic cells treated with interleukin 6 (IL-6) process and present determinants from a model native antigen in a qualitatively altered hierarchy, activating T cells in vitro and in vivo against determinants that were previously cryptic because of poor display. IL-6 does not induce conventional maturation of dendritic cells but alters the pH of peripheral, early endosomal compartments and renders the cells more susceptible to killing by chloroquine. Acidification of endosomes by ouabain mimics the effect of IL-6 and allows processing of the same cryptic determinant. These results suggest that cytokines such as IL-6 could initiate and help to propagate an autoimmune disease process by differentiating dendritic cells into a state distinct from that induced by normal maturation.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





14903 - 14908


Animals, Antigen Presentation, Autoimmunity, Cell Communication, Dendritic Cells, Female, Humans, Interleukin-6, Lymphocyte Activation, Mice, Mice, Inbred BALB C, Mice, Inbred CBA, Muramidase, T-Lymphocytes