Purpose of review: The purpose of this study is to describe recent advances in our understanding of the role of interleukin-21 (IL-21) in B-cell maturation, and how defects in IL-21 receptor (IL-21R) signalling pathways (IL-21R/γc/JAK3/STAT3) are related to primary immune deficiencies.
Recent findings: Abnormal signalling through IL-21R/γc/JAK3/STAT3 pathway has been related to decreased specific antibody responses following vaccination, and to increased susceptibility to encapsulated bacterial infections. This is manifested in the hyper-IgE syndrome, X-linked and JAK3-related severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and loss-of-function mutations in the IL-21R gene. Common variable immunodeficiency is associated with impaired in-vitro development of peripheral blood mononuclear cells or purified B-cells into memory or CD38+ B-cells following addition of IL-21.
Summary: IL-21 is a key cytokine in development of B-cells into immunoglobulin-secreting cells. Abnormal signalling through the IL-21R/γc/JAK3/STAT3 pathway leads to defective humoral immune responses to both T-dependent and T-independent antigens and impairs the establishment of long-lasting B-cell memory. Studies involving patients with hyper-IgE syndrome demonstrated the nonredundant role of STAT3 in B-cell production of high-affinity specific antibodies, while total serum immunoglobulins could be maintained through STAT3-independent activation of AID (activation-induced cytidine-deaminase). IL-21 related defects may also be associated with reduced natural killer (NK)-cell cytotoxicity and TH17 cytokine production, indicating that abnormalities in the IL-21-IL-21R pathway have profound effects on crucial immune responses.