This web page was produced as an assignment for an undergraduate course at Davidson College.


Page Contents

Brief Introduction

Physical Properties/Location  

Source of IL-10

IL-10 Receptor/Binding Properties

Function in the Immune System

Absence/Mutations of IL-10 gene

Current Research involving IL-10/Role of IL-10 in Immune Related Diseases


Brief Introduction to Interleukin-10

Interleukin-10 (IL-10) is a small protein known as a cytokine that functions as an important regulator of the immune system.  Although IL-10 is known to have many different roles in the immune system, its two major activities include inhibition of cytokine production by macrophages and inhibition of the accessory functions of macrophages during T cell activation (Abbas et al., 1994). The effects of these actions cause IL-10 to play mainly an anti-inflammatory role in the immune system.  IL-10 was originally known as the cytokine synthesis inhibiting factor (CSIF), and the discovery of this protein was based on its biological activity (Delves et al., 1998).

Physical Properties of IL-10

Human IL-10 (hIL-10) is a 18.5 kDa acid-sensitive protein that lacks detectable carbohydrate moieties  It is a member of the four alpha-helical bundle cytokine superfamily and appears to function as a homodimer (Delves et al., 1998).  Its subunits have a length of 160 amino acids (Ibelgauft et al.,  1999).  Mouse IL-10 (mIL-10) is a 35kDa homodimeric cytokine that differs from the human IL-10 due to glycosylation at the N-terminus.  Both mouse and human IL-10 contain intrachain disulfide bonds that are essential to the biological function of IL-10 (Delves et al., 1998).  

Figure 1.  This figure is an x-ray diffraction that shows IL-10 as a monomer.  Note that the native state of IL-10, however, is homodimeric.  Figure courtesy of the Protein Data Bank. View this protein at <>.

Click here to see a chime figure of IL-10.  Note that you can manipulate the image using the tools on the left in order to view the protein from different perspectives.  You will need Chime to run this tutorial.  Click here to download Chime.  Note that this Chime figure is also courtesy of the Protein Data Bank.

For a simultaneous display of structural and sequence information and a highly interactive program that allows visualization of IL-10 from numerous perspectives, view a site ( generated by M.R. Walter of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University.  


Location/Gene Structure of IL-10

The gene for human and murine IL-10 is present as a single copy in the genome and maps to chromosome 1.  The gene for hIL-10 contains four exons, while the gene for mIL-10 consists of five exons over a span of 5.1 kb. At the nucleotide level, human IL-10 shows 81% homology with mIL-10. Transcription of the IL-10 gene produces a single strand of mRNA of 1.4 kb in mouse and 2 kb in humans.  Regulation of IL-10 transcription is not yet fully understood.  However,  it is known that its upstream regulatory sequence elements are similar to that of IL-6 (Delves et al., 1998).  It is also known that the hIL-10 gene is closely related to the product of the BCRF-1 gene of Epstein-Barr virus (84% homology at the protein level).  Interestingly, this protein and hIL-10 are more closely related than hIL-10 and mIL-10.   For this reason, BCRF-1 is also called viral IL-10 (vIL-10) (Ibelgauft et al.,  1999).  Research shows that viral IL-10 shares in vitro activity with the T cell-derived cytokine, IL-10.  This information suggests that the Epstein-Barr virus may have acquired the hIL-10 gene during evolution in an attempt to gain survival advantage by inhibiting anti-viral immunity (Abbas et al., 1994).

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Source of IL-10

IL-10 is mainly produced by the TH2 subset of CD4+ helper cells.  However, it is also produced by some activated B cells, some TH1 cells (in humans), activated macrophages, and some nonhematopoietic sources (e.g.,  keratinocytes, colon carcinoma, melanoma cells).  Kinetics studies demonstrate that IL-10 is synthesized later than other immunoregulatory cytokines by activated T cells or monocytes.  This data may reveal the regulatory role of IL-10 in later phases of the immune response (Delves et al., 1998).

The IL-10 Receptor and its Binding Properties

Using radiolabeled IL-10, researchers have identified a receptor on murine and human cells.  They have also demonstrated that mIL-10 is able to block binding of hIL-10 to mouse (but not human) cells.  Cloning of the mIL-10 receptor reveals that this receptor is approximately 110 kDa and binds mIL-10 specifically.  This IL-10 receptor demonstrates a structural likeness to receptors for IFN (Ibelgauft et al.,  1999).  This finding is interesting because IL-10 and IFN-gamma are antagonistic to one another (Delves et al., 1998).  Characterization of the mIL-10 receptor demonstrates that this receptor activates STAT1, STAT2, and STAT5, which susequently form heterocomplexes and bind to the IFN-gamma response region of the Fc(gamma)R1 gene.   Other signaling pathways have been defined for hIL-10/IL-10R complexes.  One of these pathways involves phosphorylation of tyk2 and JAK1 with subsequent activation of STAT1alpha and STAT3.  However, several other routes have also been defined.  This data suggests that multiple and distinct signaling pathways may mediate the various functions of IL-10 (Delves et al., 1998). Other research has demonstrated that the immunosuppressive drugs cyclosporin A, rapamycin, and FK506 are able to inhibit IL-10 production by human T cells.  This mechanism may involve the binding of IL-2 and may be under the control of the internal feedback mechanisms of IL-2 (Cohen et al., 1997).

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Function of IL-10 in the Immune System  

Like other cytokines interleukin-10 has many effects upon the functions of cells such as lymphocytes, monocytes, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells.  Specifically, IL-10 is a cytokine that regulates immune-mediated inflammation.  It appears to have two major functions: (1) to inhibit cytokine (i.e., TNF, IL-1, chemokine, and IL-12) production by macrophages and (2) to inhibit the accessory functions of macrophages in T cell activation.  IL-10 accomplishes the latter function through the reduced expression of MHC class II molecules and certain co-stimulators (e.g., B7).   The cumulative effect of these functions acts to inhibit T cell-mediated immune inflammation.  IL-10 also has stimulatory actions on B cells and may function as a switching factor for the production of IgG4 in humans (homologous to IgG1 in mice) (Delves et al., 1998) .  A comprehensive summary of the effects of IL-10 on the various components of the immune system is given in Table 1.

Cell Line Affected by IL-10 General Effect of IL-10
T-lymphocytes Specifically inhibits TH1 cell cytokine synthesis in the mouse (especially when macrophages acted as the antigen-presenting cells) (Delves et al., 1998).  This function is antagonized by IL-4 (Ibelgauft et al.,  1999).
Inhibitory effects on proliferation, survival, and cytokine production of human T-cells. For example, direct interaction of IL-10 with the IL-10 receptor on T cells acts to suppress transcription of the gene for IL-2, which inhibits T cell proliferation (Delves et al., 1998).
Indirect inhibition of T cells.  This inhibition is caused by the alteration of the antigen- presenting function of monocytes.  IL-10 downregulates the expression of MHC class II antigen on monocyte, thereby decreasing the peptide/MHC complexes available for interaction and proper stimulation of T cells (Delves et al., 1998).

Plays a role in causing T cells to undergo anergy (Chabot et al., 1999)

Inhibits IFN (gamma) synthesis by CD8+ T cells without affecting the cytotoxic function of these CD8+ T cells (Delves et al., 1998). 
Human IL-10 demonstrates the ability to stimulate chemotaxis, proliferation, differenciation and cytolytic activity of human CD8+ T cells (Groux et al., 1999)
Inhibits apoptotic death of IL-2 dependent T cells by prolonging cell survival.  This prolongation of survival may occur through upregulation of Bcl-2 by IL-10 (In Vivo 1996).
Macrophages/Monocytes Effects on morphology, phenotype and cytokine production (Delves et al., 1998)
Causes deadherence and rounding up of monocytes (Delves et al., 1998)
Inhibits the constitutive and inducible expression of MHC class II on monocytes (Delves et al., 1998)
Able to block B7 and ICAM-1 expression in monocytes in response to IFN(gamma).  This act disrupts monocyte-T cell interaction (Delves et al., 1998)
Prohibits human monocytes (at mRNA level) from producing IL-1 alpha, IL-1 beta, IL-6, IL-8, TNF alpha, granulocyte macrophage, and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) following activation (Delves et al., 1998)
Inhibits T cell production by preventing IL-12 expression from monocytes (Delves et al., 1998)
Inhibits its own production (IL-10) by monocytes, thus demonstrating the workings of a self-regulatory negative feedback loop (Delves et al., 1998)
Inhibits macrophage activation by IFN-gamma (Yue Ho et al., 1993).
Natural Killer Cells (NK) Inhibits monocyte-induced production of IFN gamma by NK cells.  Indirectly causes this inhibition by suppressing monocyte production of IL-12 (Delves et al., 1998)
Enhances production of IFN gamma, TNF alpha, and GM-CSF by IL-2-activated NK cells (Delves et al., 1998)
Induces NK cytotoxic activity against NK-resistant tumor cell targets (Delves et al., 1998)
B-lymphocytes Induces the expression of MHC class II antigen on resting B cells (Yue Ho et al., 1993).
Leads to enhanced viability of B cells in vitro (Delves et al., 1998)
Induces apoptosis in germinal center B cells.  Mechanism unknown (In Vivo 1996).
Stimulates differenciation of B cells into antibody secreting cells (especially after activation by CD40 antibody).  Differenciation occurs when IL-10 acts with IL-2 and effectively increases the affinity of the B cells' IL-2 receptor (Delves et al., 1998).

Table 1.  General effects of IL-10 on various cell lineages.  Data in table collected from various sources as cited internally in the table. 

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Absence/Mutations of IL-10 gene  

Researchers have demonstrated that mice in which the gene for IL-10 has been disrupted by gene knock-out show few immunologic abnormalities.  These mice show normal development of lymphocytes and antibody responses.  However, research suggests that most animals are growth retarded and anemic and suffer from chronic enterocolitis.   The intestines of these mice exhibit extensive mucosal hyperplasia, inflammatory reactions, and abnormal expression of MHC class II molecules on epithelia (Kuhn et al., 1993).  If these mutant mice are kept in specific pathogen-free conditions, the mice are shown to develop only a local inflammation limited to the proximal colon, thereby suggesting that IL-10 is an essential immunoregulator in the intestinal tract.  This finding also implies that the generalized bowel inflammation in IL-10-deficient mice is a result of uncontrolled immune responses stimulated by enteric antigens (Delves et al., 1998). For further information regarding the effects of mutated or absent forms of IL-10 see the portion of this page entitled: The role of IL-10 in MS.

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Current Research involving IL-10/Role of IL-10 in Immune Related Diseases  

Hopefully, this section, while included as a matter of interest, will also aid in elucidating the role played by IL-10 in the function of the immune system.

Role of IL-10 in HIV/AIDS research and treatment

 Dr. Drew Weissman, MD is currently working to protect still uninfected cells in HIV+ persons by muzzling cytokines that promote viral infection.  One focus of his work involves IL-10 (In Vivo 1996).  In a recent study, the research team gave three HIV+ individuals one (1 micro:g/kg) dose injection of IL-10 each.  The team found that this small dose suppressed the induction of TNF-a production for 4, 6, and 24 hours and caused rapid declines in viral load.  A placebo injection failed to prevent the production of TNF-a.  Repeating this experiment using higher doses of IL-10, the researchers found that results were similar - although possibly not as profound.  This finding suggests that IL-10 may be producing unwanted side effects at higher doses.  Thus IL-10 may be used in the future as a way to impede viral replication in HIV+ individuals (Nary 1996).  For more information on this very promising topic of research go to:

Role of Interleukin-10 in multiple sclerosis (MS)

Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, IL-10 has a favorable impact on inflammatory diseases of the CNS, such as MS.  Many MS patients are treated with IFN-beta, and recent research indicates that the elevated levels of IL-10 in serum and cerebrospinal fluid associated with administration of IFN-beta may be partly accountable for the effectiveness of this treatment.  Animal research indicates that during the recovery phase of MS, expression of IL-10 in the brains of mice afflicted with MS is elevated significantly.   Some studies have even indicated that IL-10 is able to prevent MS in rats.  However, this data is not confirmed.  Also, mice deficient for IL-10 were shown to be more susceptible to MS and developed a more severe form of MS than did wild-type mice.  Additionally, IL-10 transgenics were resistant to the development of MS (Chabot et al., 1999).  

Role of IL-10 in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Because IL-10 is found to have an anti-inflammatory role in the immune system, it follows that IL-10 levels are generally very low in rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical trials at UCLA are currently being conducted in this area.  Researchers hypothesize that abnormal joint inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis can be controlled by administering an injection of IL-10 to patients suffering from this disorder.  However, previous studies suggest that administration of IL-10 in association with methotrexatate may provide a more effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis than the administration of IL-10 alone (Bulpitt et al., 1999).  To get more information on this study see: Summary of a Study of Interleukin-10 plus Methotrexatate to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis.  

IL-10 used as immunotherepy for Crohn's disease

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which causes inflammation in the small intestine (NIDDK 1999). Because IL-10 is able to reduce the levels of various proinflammatory cytokines, it has been useful in the treatment of Crohn's disease. In recent study, over a period of seven days, researchers gave a series of IV infusions of IL-10 to a small group of patients with active Crohn's disease. A clinical response occurred in 81% of these patients at three weeks compared to 45% for placebo. Researchers also observed 50% clinical remission at three weeks for the active agent compared to 23% for placebo (MAC 1999).  This research and other current studies around the world demonstrate the possibilities of using IL-10 to prevent recurrence of Crohn's disease or to maintain remissions (van Deventer et al., 1999).  

Role of IL-10 during childbirth

The act of giving birth is associated with an increase in the body's production of proinflammatory mediators by gestational tissues. Researchers at the University of Auckland School of Medicine have shown that IL-10 may play a role in modulating or promoting the termination of inflammation during labor at term and in intrauterine infection-associated preterm labor (Simpson et al., 1998).

Additionally, tumors such as melanoma, ovarian carcinoma, and B-cell lymphoma have been shown to produce IL-10.  It is possible that treatment with IL-10, therefore, could be used to treat such cancers (Janeway et al., 1999).  Indeed, data from the Cytokines Web indicates that potential clinical roles of IL-10 may include: non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, melanoma, and ovarian cancer.  It also finds that IL-10 may be used in transplantation, immunodeficiencies, and parasitic infections (Cytokines 1997).

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Abbas A, Lichtman A, Pober J. 1994. Cellular and Molecular Immunology. 2nd Ed.  Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company. 

Bulpitt K, Paulus H, Clements P. 1999 Oct 11.  Clinical Trials: Summary of a study on interleukin-10 plus methotrexate to treat rheumatoid arthritis. University of California (LA) Clinical Trials. <>  Accessed 2000 Feb 23.

Chabot S, Williams G, Hamilton M, Sutherland G, Wee Yong V. 1999.  Mechanisms of IL-10 Production in Human Microglia-T Cell Interaction. Journal of Immunology 162: 6819-6828.

Cohen SB, Parry SL, Feldman M, Foxwell B.  1997 Jun 15. Autocrine and paracrine regulation of human T cell IL-10 production.  Journal of Immunology 158(12): 5596-5602.

Cytokines Web. 1997 Jan 16. <>  Accessed 2000 Mar 3.

Delves P, Roitt I (eds). 1998. Encyclopedia of Immunology.  2nd Ed. San Diego: Academic Press.

Groux H, Cottrez F, Rouleau M, Mauze S, Antonenko S, Hurst S, McNeil T, Bigler T, Roncarolo M, Coffman R. 1999. A transgenic model to analyze the immunoregulatory role of IL-10 secreted by antigen-presenting cells.  Journal of Immunology 162: 1723-1729.

Ibelgauft H.  1999 Apr 14.  Cytokines Online Pathfinder Encyclopedia: Hypertext Information Universe of Cytokines.  Version 4.0 (August 1999).  <> Accessed 2000 Mar 1.

Janeway CA, Travers P, Walport M, Capra JD. Immunobiology: the Immune System in Health and Disease. 4th ed. London: Current
Biology Publication; 1999. p 556.

Kuhn, R., Lohler J, Rennick D, Rajewsky K, Muller W. 1993.  Interleukin-10-deficient mice develop chronic enterocolitis. Cell. 75(2): 263-274.

Medical Association Communications (MAC).  1999.  Anti-TNFa therapy in Crohn's disease: From research to reality. <> Accessed 2000 Mar 1.

Nary G. ed.  1996 July 10.  The Body: an AIDS and HIV Information Resource, AIDScan. <> Accessed 2000 Feb 23.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NIDDK). 1999 Jul 23. Crohn's Disease.  <> Accessed 2000 Mar 1.

Protein Data Bank. Structure Explorer - 1ILK. <> Accessed 2000 Mar 2. 

Simpson, KL, Keelan J, Mitchell M.  1998. Labor-Associated Changes in Interleukin-10 Production and Its Regulation by Immunomodulators in Human Choriodecidua.  Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.  83(12): 4332-4337.

Yue Ho S, Ying Liu A, Khan T, Hsu D, Bazan J, Moore K.  December 1993.  A receptor for interleukin 10 is related to interferon receptors.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA. 90: 11267-11271.

van Devenzer S. CAmoglio, te Velde A.  1999 May 20.  Laboratory of Experimental Internal Medicine:  Immune modulation of Crohn's disease. <> Accessed 2000 Mar 1.

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