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They 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 enhance or inhibit the action of other cytokines in complex ways.

The word comes from Greek: cyto, from Greek "κύτος" kytos "cavity, cell" kines, from Greek "κίνησις" kinēsis "movement".

In 1969 Dudley Dumonde proposed the term "lymphokine" to describe proteins secreted from lymphocytes and later, proteins derived from macrophages and monocytes in culture were called "monokines".

Because cytokines are characterised by considerable redundancy and pleiotropism, such distinctions, allowing for exceptions, are obsolete.

A classification that proves more useful in clinical and experimental practice outside of structural biology divides immunological cytokines into those that enhance cellular immune responses, type 1 (TNFα, IFN-γ, etc.), and type 2 (TGF-β, IL-4, IL-10, IL-13, etc.), which favor antibody responses.

Cytokines are a broad and loose category of small proteins (~5–20 k Da) that are important in cell signalling.

Virtually all nucleated cells, but especially endo/epithelial cells and resident macrophages (many near the interface with the external environment) are potent producers of IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-α.

Further, as molecules, cytokines are not limited to their immunomodulatory role.

Cytokines have been classed as lymphokines, interleukins, and chemokines, based on their presumed function, cell of secretion, or target of action.

It seems to be a paradox that cytokines binding to antibodies have a stronger immune effect than the cytokine alone. Over-secretion of cytokines can trigger a dangerous syndrome known as a cytokine storm; this may have been the cause of severe adverse events during a clinical trial of TGN1412.

Cytokine storms are suspected to be the main cause of death in the 1918 "Spanish Flu" pandemic.

Virtually all nucleated cells, but especially endo/epithelial cells and resident macrophages (many near the interface with the external environment) are potent producers of IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-α.

Further, as molecules, cytokines are not limited to their immunomodulatory role.

Cytokines have been classed as lymphokines, interleukins, and chemokines, based on their presumed function, cell of secretion, or target of action.

It seems to be a paradox that cytokines binding to antibodies have a stronger immune effect than the cytokine alone. Over-secretion of cytokines can trigger a dangerous syndrome known as a cytokine storm; this may have been the cause of severe adverse events during a clinical trial of TGN1412.

Cytokine storms are suspected to be the main cause of death in the 1918 "Spanish Flu" pandemic.

They are different from hormones, which are also important cell signalling molecules, in that hormones circulate in less variable concentrations and hormones tend to be made by specific kinds of cells.