Overview of Cytokine Signaling

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The word cytokine is derived from the greek words “cyto”, meaning cell, and “kinos” meaning movement1. Cytokines are a large group of cell signaling molecules that are responsible for cell to cell communication, or signaling, in order to generate an immune response1,2. Cytokines also have documented roles in developmental processes such as cell differentiation and cell migration3, but the immune system depends on cytokine signaling to keep the human body healthy4

When cytokines are released from a cell they bind to a receptor on the cell surface of a target cell2.  This binding triggers a chemical signal that is sent into the target cell which in turn, causes a change in function or phenotype2,5. The effect of cytokines can frequently be visible on the very cells that secreted them, which is referred to as autocrine action. Nearby cells can also be affected by cytokine release, which is referred to as paracrine action. Occasionally, cytokine secretion can even affect distant cells that are far away which is referred to as endocrine action.

Depending on their function, cytokines are classified into the following types: Chemokines which stimulate white blood cells (WBCs) in response to bacteria, fungi and viruses, Colony-Stimulating Factors (CSFs) which stimulate WBCs to multiply to defend the body from infections, Interferons which activate natural killer (NK) cells to clear viral infections, Interleukins which play a key role in generating inflammatory response by signaling the proliferation of T lymphocytes, Transforming Growth Factors (TGFs) which are involved in the generation of healthy cells, or Tumor Necrosis Factors (TNFs) which play a role in systemic inflammation.  In addition, depending on the type of cell that produced the cytokine they are classified into two types, monokine and lymphokine2. Monokines are secreted by monocytes and lymphokines are secreted by lymphocytes, each of which are types of white blood cells that help in regulating immunity2. Furthermore, cytokines can also be classified as pro-inflammatory, which induce inflammation in response to tissue injury, or anti-inflammatory, which lower the inflammatory response in such instances as chronic inflammation in disorders like rheumatoid arthritis2.   

Many studies have documented that mutations in cytokines themselves and receptors contribute to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease6. In fact, cytokines and cytokine antagonists have recently become some of the most successful new drugs7. Bethyl manufactures many antibodies to proteins involved in cytokine signaling that may aid in advancing breakthroughs in future therapeutics.

Below is the entire list of targets involved in Cytokine Signaling research. Can’t find what you are looking for? Bethyl offers a custom antibody service.



1. Mandal, Ananya. What are Cytokines?. News Medical Life Sciences. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Cytokines.aspx

2. Everything About Cytokines: Their Function, Structure, and Properties. Bodytomy. https://bodytomy.com/cytokines-function-structure-properties

3. Cytokines: Introduction. British Society for Immunology. https://www.immunology.org/public-information/bitesized-immunology/receptors-and-molecules/cytokines-introduction

4. Cytokine Signaling. Sino Biological. http://www.sinobiological.com/Cytokine-Signaling-Cytokine-Signalling-a-5799.html

5. McInnes I. Kelley and Firestein’s Textbook of Reumatology. Elsevier Inc. 2017. Vol 1. 396-407.

6. O’Shea J. and Murray P. 2008. Cytokine Signaling Modules in Inflammatory Responces. Immunity. 28(4): 477-487.

7. O’Shea J, Gadina M, Kanno Y. 2011. Cytokine Signaling: Birth of a Pathway. J Immunol. 187(11): 5475-5478.