The proinflammatory cytokine IL-6 seems to have an important role in the intestinal inflammation that characterizes inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) such as Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms regulating IL-6 production in IBD. Here, we assessed the role of the transcriptional regulator IFN regulatory factor–4 (IRF4) in this process. Patients with either Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis exhibited increased IRF4 expression in lamina propria CD3+ T cells as compared with control patients. Consistent with IRF4 having a regulatory function in T cells, in a mouse model of IBD whereby colitis is induced in RAG-deficient mice by transplantation with CD4+CD45RBhi T cells, adoptive transfer of wild-type but not IRF4-deficient T cells resulted in severe colitis. Furthermore, IRF4-deficient mice were protected from T cell–dependent chronic intestinal inflammation in trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid– and oxazolone-induced colitis. In addition, IRF4-deficient mice with induced colitis had reduced mucosal IL-6 production, and IRF4 was required for IL-6 production by mucosal CD90+ T cells, which it protected from apoptosis. Finally, the protective effect of IRF4 deficiency could be abrogated by systemic administration of either recombinant IL-6 or a combination of soluble IL-6 receptor (sIL-6R) plus IL-6 (hyper–IL-6). Taken together, our data identify IRF4 as a key regulator of mucosal IL-6 production in T cell–dependent experimental colitis and suggest that IRF4 might provide a therapeutic target for IBDs.
Jonas Mudter, Lioubov Amoussina, Mirjam Schenk, Jingling Yu, Anne Brüstle, Benno Weigmann, Raja Atreya, Stefan Wirtz, Christoph Becker, Arthur Hoffman, Imke Atreya, Stefan Biesterfeld, Peter R. Galle, Hans A. Lehr, Stefan Rose-John, Christoph Mueller, Michael Lohoff, Markus F. Neurath