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A novel population of both IFN-gamma- and IL-10-secreting human T cells that differentiate in the presence of exogenous IL-12 in vitro has recently been described. Whether this T cell population exists in vivo is unknown. Borrelia burgdorferi, the etiologic agent of
Lyme disease, can induce a chronic infection in the presence of a vigorous humoral immune response. We established T cell lines specific for B. burgdorferi and tetanus toxoid from subjects with chronic B. burgdorferi infection and healthy controls in limiting dilution experiments and assessed proliferation and cytokine secretion. As expected, higher frequencies of B. burgdorferi-specific precursor T cells were observed in
Lyme patients compared with controls. In both groups of subjects, T cell lines specific for B. burgdorferi secreted high amounts of IFN-gamma. However, in patients with
Lyme disease, 27% of T cell lines secreted not only IFN-gamma but also IL-10, which was only observed in 0.6% of B. burgdorferi-reactive T cell lines generated from controls and in none of the tetanus toxoid-reactive T cell lines generated from either
Lyme patients and controls. Single cell PHA cloning confirmed that both cytokines were secreted from one clonally expanded precursor cell. Whole mononuclear cells from B. burgdorferi-infected individuals, but not from controls, secreted IL-12. Moreover, neutralizing anti-IL-12 mAbs inhibited the generation of the IFN-gamma/IL-10 population. These data demonstrate that this novel population of IL-12-induced IFN-gamma/IL-10-secreting T cells is generated in response to chronic B. burgdorferi infection.