Biology of the interleukin-2 receptor.

Advances in immunology (1998-10-02)
B H Nelson, D M Willerford

Studies of the biology of the IL-2 receptor have played a major part in establishing several of the fundamental principles that govern our current understanding of immunology. Chief among these is the contribution made by lymphokines to regulation of the interactions among vast numbers of lymphocytes, comprising a number of functionally distinct lineages. These soluble mediators likely act locally, within the context of the microanatomic organization of the primary and secondary lymphoid organs, where, in combination with signals generated by direct membrane-membrane interactions, a wide spectrum of cell fate decisions is influenced. The properties of IL-2 as a T-cell growth factor spawned the view that IL-2 worked in vivo to promote clonal T-cell expansion during immune responses. Over time, this singular view has suffered from increasing appreciation that the biologic effects of IL-2R signals are much more complex than simply mediating T-cell growth: depending on the set of conditions, IL-2R signals may also promote cell survival, effector function, and apoptosis. These sometimes contradictory effects underscore the fact that a diversity of intracellular signaling pathways are potentially activated by IL-2R. Furthermore, cell fate decisions are based on the integration of multiple signals received by a lymphocyte from the environment; IL-2R signals can thus be regarded as one input to this integration process. In part because IL-2 was first identified as a T-cell growth factor, the major focus of investigation in IL-R2 signaling has been on the mechanism of mitogenic effects in cultured cell lines. Three critical events have been identified in the generation of the IL-2R signal for cell cycle progression, including heterodimerization of the cytoplasmic domains of the IL-2R beta and gamma(c) chains, activation of the tyrosine kinase Jak3, and phosphorylation of tyrosine residues on the IL-2R beta chain. These proximal events led to the creation of an activated receptor complex, to which various cytoplasmic signaling molecules are recruited and become substrates for regulatory enzymes (especially tyrosine kinases) that are associated with the receptor. One intriguing outcome of the IL-2R signaling studies performed in cell lines is the apparent functional redundancy of the A and H regions of IL-2R beta, and their corresponding downstream pathways, with respect to the proliferative response. Why should the receptor complex induce cell proliferation through more than one mechanism or pathway? One possibility is that this redundancy is an unusual property of cultured cell lines and that primary lymphocytes require signals from both the A and the H regions of IL-2R beta for optimal proliferative responses in vivo. An alternative possibility is that the A and H regions of IL-2R beta are only redundant with respect to proliferation and that each region plays a unique and essential role in regulating other aspects of lymphocyte physiology. As examples, the A or H region could prove to be important for regulating the sensitivity of lymphocytes to AICD or for promoting the development of NK cells. These issues may be resolved by reconstituting IL-2R beta-/-mice with A-and H-deleted forms of the receptor chain and analyzing the effect on lymphocyte development and function in vivo. In addition to the redundant nature of the A and H regions, there remains a large number of biochemical activities mediated by the IL-2R for which no clear physiological role has been identified. Therefore, the circumstances are ripe for discovering new connections between molecular signaling events activated by the IL-2R and the regulation of immune physiology. Translating biochemical studies of Il-2R function into an understanding of how these signals regulate the immune system has been facilitated by the identification of natural mutations in IL-2R components in humans with immunodeficiency and by the generation of mice with targeted mutations in these gen