Eosinophils in the 1990s: new perspectives on their role in health and disease.
- Department of Respiratory Medicine, Leicester University Medical School, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, UK.
Eosinophils are characterized by their unique crystalloid granules that contain four basic proteins--MBP, ECP, EDN and EPO. The cell has many common features with neutrophils but, unlike that cell type, eosinophils utilize VLA-4/VCAM-1 as an adherence pathway and have a number of other receptors not shared by neutrophils. These include recognition units for IgE (distinct from CD23), and receptors for IL-5, IL-3 and RANTES. Following stimulation with a variety of agents, eosinophils preferentially elaborate LTC4 as the major 5-lipoxygenase product of arachidonic acid and produce substantial amounts of PAF. Of particular interest is the ability of eosinophils to synthesize a number of cytokines. Thus eosinophils have marked pro-inflammatory potential. There is now convincing evidence that eosinophilia is T-cell dependent. The Th2-type cell, which selectively secretes IL-5 and IL-4, seems particularly involved. IL-5, IL-3 and GM-CSF are required for eosinophil maturation, and cause activation and prolonged survival of the mature cell. IL-5 is unique in that it promotes terminal differentiation of the committed eosinophil precursor and in vivo in mice appears to be sufficient on its own for eosinophil growth from uncommited stem cells. IL-4 selectively upregulates VCAM-1 expression on endothelial cells thus augmenting VLA-4-dependent eosinophil adhesion. The role of eosinophils in disease is complex but in general their numbers are increased in helminthic parasitic disease and atopic allergy and asthma. Eosinophil products can produce many of the pathological features of asthma, and helminthic larvae coated with immunoglobulin or complement are particularly susceptible to eosinophil-mediated cytotoxicity. Eosinopenia is often related to acute inflammation or stress.