One of the principle mechanisms through which the cells communicate with each other and the surrounding tissues is through secretion of soluble factors called cytokines. Cytokines mediate a wide range of physiological processes at their site of production and throughout the body. Certain cytokines mediate normal cellular function during homeostasis, others provide protection by regulating immune cell function during infection, and others mediate the immunopathogenesis of a number of pathologies.

Cytokines encompass a variety of protein families including interleukins, interferons, growth factors, tumor necrosis factors, and colony stimulating factors. Each cytokine mediates a specific physiological response to external stimuli including cancer, pathogens, and toxins. Cytokine producing cells include, but are not limited to endothelial cells, fibroblasts, stromal cells, and cells of the immune system including mast cells, basophils, neutrophils, eosinophils, monocytes, macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, T cells, B cells, and plasma cells.

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