Cytokines are small proteins (~5–20kDa) that play important roles in cell signaling. Their release affects the behaviour of the nearby cells. It is well-known that cytokines are involved in autocrine signaling, paracrine signalling and endocrine signalling as immune modulating agents. Their definite distinction from hormones is still unknown and needs more research. Cytokines include chemokines, interferons (such as INF-α, INF-β, INF-γ, ect), interleukins, lymphokines, and tumour necrosis factors but generally not hormones or growth factors (despite some overlap in the terminology). Cytokines are produced by a broad range of cells, including immune cells like macrophages, T lymphocytes and mast cells, B lymphocytes, as well as endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and various stromal cells; a given cytokine may be produced by more than one type of cell.
Cytokines (mainly antiinflammatory cytokines) act through receptors, and are especially important in the immune system; cytokines modulate the balance between humoral and cell-based immune responses, and they regulate the maturation, growth, and responsiveness of particular cell populations. Some cytokines inhibit or enhance the action of other cytokines in complex ways.
Cytokines are different from hormones, which are also important cell signaling molecules, in that hormones circulate in less variable concentrations and hormones are usually made by specific kinds of cells. Cytokines are important in health and disease, specifically in host responses to infection, immune responses, inflammatory response (acute or chronic inflammation), trauma, sepsis, cancer, and reproduction.
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