Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) and macrophage activation syndrome (MAS) are 2 similar diseases characterized by a cytokine storm, overwhelming inflammation, multiorgan dysfunction, and death. Animal models of HLH suggest that disease is driven by IFN-γ produced by CD8+ lymphocytes stimulated by persistent antigen exposure. In these models and patients with “primary” HLH, the antigen persists due to genetic defects, resulting in ineffective cytotoxic responses by CD8+ T cells and poor pathogen clearance. However, infectious triggers are often not identified in patients with MAS, and some patients with HLH or MAS lack defects in cytotoxic T cell killing. Herein, we show that repeated stimulation of TLR9 produced an HLH/MAS-like syndrome on a normal genetic background, without exogenous antigen. Like previous HLH models, TLR9-induced MAS was IFN-γ dependent; however, unlike other models, disease did not require lymphocytes. We further showed that IL-10 played a protective role in this model and that blocking IL-10 signaling led to the development of hemophagocytosis. IL-10 may therefore be an important target for the development of effective therapeutics for MAS. Our data provide insight into MAS-like syndromes in patients with inflammatory diseases in which there is chronic innate immune activation but no genetic defects in cytotoxic cell function.
Edward M. Behrens, Scott W. Canna, Katharine Slade, Sheila Rao, Portia A. Kreiger, Michele Paessler, Taku Kambayashi, Gary A. Koretzky