The cytokines interleukin 13 and 4 share a common heterodimeric receptor and are important modulators of peripheral allergic reactions. Produced primarily by T-helper type 2 lymphocytes, they are typically considered as anti-inflammatory cytokines because they can downregulate the synthesis of T-helper type 1 pro-inflammatory cytokines. Their presence and role in the brain is only beginning to be investigated and the data collected so far shows that these molecules can be produced by microglial cells and possibly by neurons. Attention has so far been given to the possible role of these molecules in neurodegeneration. Both neuroprotective or neurotoxic effects have been proposed based on evidence that interleukin 13 and 4 can reduce inflammation by promoting the M2 microglia phenotype and contributing to the death of microglia M1 phenotype, or by potentiating the effects of oxidative stress on neurons during neuro-inflammation. Remarkably, the heterodimeric subunit IL-13Rα1 of their common receptor was recently demonstrated in dopaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area and the substantia nigra pars compacta, suggesting the possibility that both cytokines may affect the activity of these neurons regulating reward, mood, and motor coordination. In mice and man, the gene encoding for IL-13Rα1 is expressed on the X chromosome within the PARK12 region of susceptibility to Parkinson’s disease (PD). This, together with finding that IL-13Rα1 contributes to loss of dopaminergic neurons during inflammation, indicates the possibility that these cytokines may contribute to the etiology or the progression of PD.
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