The most important feature of B cells is the production of Abs upon activation; additionally, B cells produce pro- and antiinflammatory cytokines in response to certain stimuli. IL-10-producing B cells represent a major subset of regulatory B cells (Bregs) that suppress autoimmune and inflammatory responses. B cells play a crucial role in the development and maintenance of the chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis (RA); however, controversial data are available on IL-10-- producing Bregs in RA. Our aim was to identify the optimal conditions that induce IL-10+ Bregs and, furthermore, to shed light on the signaling pathways that are responsible for their expansion. The results show that dual stimulation by CpG and CD40L for 48 h is optimal for IL-10 induction, and this can be synergistically boosted by IL-21.We identified the CD19+CD27+ memory B cell population as the major source of IL-10+ Bregs. We detected significantly fewer CD19+CD27+IL-10+ cells in RA patients compared with healthy controls, and these were functionally defective in suppressing IFN-γ production by CD4+ T cells in coculture. IL-21 drastically increased the number of IL-10+ Bregs within the CD19+CD27+ and CD19+CD27- populations; furthermore, it induced the appearance of IL-10+Blimp-1+ plasmablasts. Monitoring the phosphorylation of key signaling molecules revealed that activation of ERK, p38, and CREB is indispensable for the induction of IL-10 production, whereas phosphorylation of STAT3 further enhances IL-10 expression in human Bregs. We conclude that CREB and STAT3 are the key transcription factors responsible for the expansion and differentiation of human IL-10-producing Bregs.
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