Because T cells appear to modulate the severity of murine Borrelia burgdorferi infections, we decided to examine the possible involvement of T cell-associated cytokines in
disease outcome. Comparison of in vitro B. burgdorferi Ag-induced cytokine production in
disease-susceptible and -resistant strains revealed striking differences; spleen cells from susceptible C3H mice produced significantly higher levels of IL-2 and IFN-gamma and lower levels of IL-4 than spleen cells from resistant BALB/c mice. Lymph node responses were even more divergent, with C3H mice producing high levels of IFN-gamma, and BALB/c mice producing little or none. This apparent Th1/Th2 cytokine imbalance was also reflected in vivo, since serum from C3H had significantly higher levels of B. burgdorferi-specific IgG2a Ab and lower levels of IgG1 Ab than serum from BALB/c mice. In vivo studies confirmed the importance of IL-4 in early control of spirochete growth, since treatment of either strain with neutralizing anti-IL-4 mAb led to increased joint swelling and higher spirochete burdens in joints compared with those in control mAb-treated mice. In contrast, IFN-gamma may hinder early control of spirochete growth in susceptible C3H mice, since treatment of mice with neutralizing anti-IFN-gamma mAb reduced both joint swelling and joint spirochete burdens compared with those in control mAb-treated mice. These studies indicate opposing roles for IL-4 and IFN-gamma in the modulation of spirochete growth and
disease development in B. burgdorferi-infected mice and suggest that differential cytokine production early in infection may contribute to strain-related differences in susceptibility.