Cytokines are peptide mediators of inflammation that are being extensively studied in several aspects of disease. I provide an introduction to the general features of cytokine biology. Cytokines may be considered as either proinflammatory or anti-inflammatory compounds, and they also have potent hematopoietic effects. Basic information about the biological properties of the cytokines and their receptors and mechanisms of postreceptor signal transduction is presented. Lymphocytes have been subclassified into specific cell types, and the Th1 and Th2 classifications are discussed. Cytokines are administered exogenously to augment aspects of the immune response; this approach has been particularity well established for the hematopoietic growth factors. In other diseases, inhibition of cytokines has been attempted by several approaches, including monoclonal antibodies, soluble receptors, and receptor antagonists. Finally, the general methods of measuring cytokines and the advantages/pitfalls associated with these methods are reviewed.
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