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The development of gastritis during Helicobacter pylori infection is dependent on an activated adaptive immune response orchestrated by T helper (Th) cells. However, the relative contributions of the Th1 and Th17 subsets to gastritis and control of infection are still under investigation. To investigate the role of interleukin-21 (IL-21) in the gastric mucosa during H. pylori infection, we combined mathematical modeling of CD4(+) T cell differentiation with in vivo mechanistic studies. We infected IL-21-deficient and wild-type mice with H. pylori strain SS1 and assessed colonization, gastric inflammation, cellular infiltration, and cytokine profiles. Chronically H. pylori-infected IL-21-deficient mice had higher H. pylori colonization, significantly less gastritis, and reduced expression of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines compared to these parameters in infected wild-type littermates. These in vivo data were used to calibrate an H. pylori infection-dependent, CD4(+) T cell-specific computational model, which then described the mechanism by which IL-21 activates the production of interferon gamma (IFN-γ) and IL-17 during chronic H. pylori infection. The model predicted activated expression of T-bet and RORγt and the phosphorylation of STAT3 and STAT1 and suggested a potential role of IL-21 in the modulation of IL-10. Driven by our modeling-derived predictions, we found reduced levels of CD4(+) splenocyte-specific tbx21 and rorc expression, reduced phosphorylation of STAT1 and STAT3, and an increase in CD4(+) T cell-specific IL-10 expression in H. pylori-infected IL-21-deficient mice. Our results indicate that IL-21 regulates Th1 and Th17 effector responses during chronic H. pylori infection in a STAT1- and STAT3-dependent manner, therefore playing a major role controlling H. pylori infection and gastritis. Importance: Helicobacter pylori is the dominant member of the gastric microbiota in more than 50% of the world's population. H. pylori colonization has been implicated in gastritis and gastric cancer, as infection with H. pylori is the single most common risk factor for gastric cancer. Current data suggest that, in addition to bacterial virulence factors, the magnitude and types of immune responses influence the outcome of colonization and chronic infection. This study uses a combined computational and experimental approach to investigate how IL-21, a proinflammatory T cell-derived cytokine, maintains the chronic proinflammatory T cell immune response driving chronic gastritis during H. pylori infection. This research will also provide insight into a myriad of other infectious and immune disorders in which IL-21 is increasingly recognized to play a central role. The use of IL-21-related therapies may provide treatment options for individuals chronically colonized with H. pylori as an alternative to aggressive antibiotics.
Copyright © 2014 Carbo et al.