IL-12 and IL-23 are heterodimeric cytokines involved in the induction of Th1 and Th17 immune responses. Previous work indicated that a region on chromosome 11 encoding the IL-12p40 subunit regulates strain differences in susceptibility to murine trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid-induced colitis. In addition, this region determines strain differences in LPS-induced IL-12 responses. In this study, we investigated how polymorphisms in the coding region of murine Il12b influence IL-12 and IL-23 heterodimer formation. Transfection studies using constructs containing IL-12p35 linked to IL-12p40 from the colitis-resistant C57BL/6 strain or to the polymorphic p40 variant from the colitis-susceptible SJL/J strain demonstrated that SJL/J-derived p40 constructs synthesized significantly more IL-12p70 than did constructs harboring the C57BL/6-p40 variant. This could not be attributed to differences in synthesis rate or secretion, implicating a greater affinity of SJL/J-derived IL-12p40 for its IL-12p35 subunit. This greater affinity is also associated with increased IL-23 synthesis. In addition, C57BL/6 mice transgenic for the SJL/J 40 variant synthesized significantly more IL-12p70 upon LPS challenge and were more prone to develop colonic inflammation than did C57BL/6 mice transgenic for the C57BL/6-p40 variant. The more efficient binding of the polymorphic Il12b variant to p35 and p19 is most likely due to conformational changes following differential glycosylation as a consequence of the polymorphism. The high synthesis rate of the mature cytokines resulting from this efficient binding can lead to rapid proinflammatory skewing of immune responses and distortion of the homeostatic balance underlying the greater susceptibility for colitis.

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Zwiers, A., Fuss, I.J., Seegers, D., Konijn, T., Garcia-Vallejo, J.J., Samsom, J.N., … Bouma, G.. (2011). A polymorphism in the coding region of Il12b promotes IL-12p70 and IL-23 heterodimer formation. Journal of Immunology, 186(6), 3572–3580. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.1001330