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Open Access Research article

Cytokine profiles of cord and adult blood leukocytes: differences in expression are due to differences in expression and activation of transcription factors

Andreas Nitsche23, Meixia Zhang1, Theresa Clauss2, Wolfgang Siegert2, Kay Brune1 and Andreas Pahl1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Fahrstr. 17, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany

2 Charité – CCM, CC14 Haematology/Oncology, Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany

3 Robert Koch-Institut, Centre for Biological Safety 1, Nordufer 20, 13353 Berlin, Germany

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BMC Immunology 2007, 8:18  doi:10.1186/1471-2172-8-18

Published: 31 August 2007



Stem cell transplantation as therapy for hematological disorders is often hampered by severe graft-versus-host-disease. This may be reduced by umbilical cord blood transplantation, an effect that has been attributed to qualitative differences between neonatal and adult T cells. We compared levels of secreted proteins and cytokine mRNA induced in cord blood leukocytes (CBL) and adult blood leukocytes (ABL) by various stimuli.


While interleukin-2 (IL-2) levels were similar in CBL and ABL, there was less induction of the Th1 cytokine interferon-γ in CBL. Production of the Th2 cytokines IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13 and the hematopoietic cytokine IL-3 was much lower in CBL versus ABL after T-cell receptor-mediated stimulation, whereas production of GM-CSF was comparable in the 2 cell types. The lower levels of Th1 and Th2 cytokines were maintained in CBL during a 4-day time-course study, while after 12 hours IL-3 and GM-CSF reached in CBL levels similar to those in ABL. For all cytokines except IFNγ, the IC50 values for inhibition by cyclosporin A were similar in ABL and CBL. In contrast, there was less expression and activation of transcription factors in CBL. Activation of NF-κB by TPA/ionomycin was detected in ABL but not CBL. Furthermore, there was less expression of the Th subset-specific transcription factors T-bet and c-maf in CBL versus ABL, whereas GATA-3 expression was similar. Expression of T-bet and c-maf correlated with expression of the Th1 and Th2 cytokines, respectively. Time course experiments revealed that T-bet expression was stimulated in both cell types, whereas c-maf and GATA-3 were induced only in ABL.


The diminished capability of CBL to synthesize cytokines is probably due to decreased activation of NF-κB, whereas differences in Th subsets are due to differences in regulation of Th lineage-specific transcriptions factors. We propose that the reduced incidence and severity of GvHD after allogeneic transplantation of umbilical CB cells is due to lesser activation of specific transcription factors and a subsequent reduction in production of certain cytokines.