Exposure to cigarette smoke is known to increase the risk of the development of allergic disease. The mechanism is not well understood. In this study, we determined the effect of hydroquinone (HQ), a major metabolite of benzene present in large quantities in cigarette tar, on interleukin-4 (IL-4) production by CD4+ T cells. HQ significantly enhanced IL-4 production by keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH)-primed CD4+ T cells in a dose-dependent manner. The enhancing effect of HQ on IL-4 production was maximal at a concentration of 50 μM. It increased the level of IL-4 production approximately 10-fold. HQ enhanced IL-4 mRNA expression and also IL-4 gene promoter activity, suggesting that the enhancing effect of HQ on IL-4 production may occur at the transcriptional level. Furthermore, the injection of KLH-primed mice with HQ resulted in a significant increase in the levels of IL-4 and immunoglobulin E. These findings provide evidence that HQ, a major component of cigarette tar, may enhance allergic immune responses by inducing the production of IL-4 in CD4+ T cells.
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