Activation of individual CD4+ T cells results in differential lymphokine expression: interleukin 2 (IL-2) is preferentially produced by T helper type 1 (TH1) cells, which are involved in cell-mediated immune responses, whereas IL-4 is synthesized by TH2 cells, which are essential for humoral immunity. The Ca(2+)-dependent factor NF-ATp plays a key role in the inducible transcription of both these lymphokine genes. However, while IL2 expression requires the contribution of Ca(2+)- and protein kinase C-dependent signals, we report that activation of human IL4 transcription through the Ca(2+)-dependent pathway is diminished by protein kinase C stimulation in Jurkat T cells. This phenomenon is due to mutually exclusive binding of NF-ATp and NF-kappa B to the P sequence, an element located 69 bp upstream of the IL4 transcription initiation site. Human IL4 promoter-mediated transcription is downregulated in Jurkat cells stimulated with the NF-kappa B-activating cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha and suppressed in RelA-overexpressing cells. In contrast, protein kinase C stimulation or RelA overexpression does not affect the activity of a human IL4 promoter containing a mouse P sequence, which is a higher-affinity site for NF-ATp and a lower-affinity site for RelA. Thus, competition between two general transcriptional activators, RelA and NF-ATp, mediates the inhibitory effect of protein kinase C stimulation on IL4 expression and may contribute to differential gene expression in TH cells.
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