IL-26 is an antimicrobial protein secreted by Th17 cells that has the ability to directly kill extracellular bacteria. To ascertain whether IL-26 contributes to host defense against intracellular bacteria, we studied leprosy, caused by the obligate intracellular pathogen Mycobacterium leprae, as a model. Analysis of leprosy skin lesions by gene expression profiling and immunohistology revealed that IL-26 was more strongly expressed in lesions from the self-limited tuberculoid compared with expression in progressive lepromatous patients. IL-26 directly bound to M. leprae in axenic culture and reduced bacteria viability. Furthermore, IL-26, when added to human monocyte–derived macrophages infected with M. leprae, entered the infected cell, colocalized with the bacterium, and reduced bacteria viability. In addition, IL-26 induced autophagy via the cytoplasmic DNA receptor stimulator of IFN genes (STING), as well as fusion of phagosomes containing bacilli with lysosomal compartments. Altogether, our data suggest that the Th17 cytokine IL-26 contributes to host defense against intracellular bacteria.


Angeline Tilly Dang, Rosane M.B. Teles, David I. Weiss, Kislay Parvatiyar, Euzenir N. Sarno, Maria T. Ochoa, Genhong Cheng, Michel Gilliet, Barry R. Bloom, Robert L. Modlin


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