Expression of interleukin 6 (IL-6) correlates with oestrogen receptor in human breast carcinoma

Br J Cancer. 1999 May;80(3-4):579-84. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6690394.


Multifunctional cytokines play important and only partially defined roles in mammary tumour development and progression. Normal human mammary epithelial cells constitutively produce interleukin 6 (IL-6), IL-8 and a non-secreted form of tumour necrosis factor. Transformation of mammary epithelial cells by different oncogenes is frequently associated with alterations of cytokine/growth factor production and responsiveness. In the present study we analysed the expression of IL-6 in 149 cases of invasive breast carcinoma and the data have been correlated with clinico-pathological variables including tumour size, histological grade, nodal status, and oestrogen and progesterone receptors, Ki67 and p53, protein expression. Though the majority of breast carcinomas expressed at least low levels of immunoreactive IL-6, we found that expression of this cytokine was inversely associated with histological tumour grade (P = 0.0017), but not with tumour size and nodal status. Ki67 positivity was inversely correlated with IL-6 expression (P = 0.027). Among biological parameters analysed, a direct association was found between the percentage of IL-6-positive cells and that of oestrogen (P = 0.00005) and progesterone (P = 0.025) receptor-positive cells. No correlation was observed between IL-6 and p53 protein expression. These data indicate that down-regulation of IL-6 is associated with highly malignant mammary carcinomas. It will be of interest to evaluate whether alterations of cytokines that are constitutively produced by mammary cells are also associated with high-grade tumours.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Interleukin-6 / biosynthesis*
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Interleukin-6
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53