Background: Interleukin-6 (IL-6) has multiple immunological effects on a wide variety of cells and tissues. The expression of IL-6 and IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) may be important to the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Methods: In the present study, we examined whether mucosal IL-6 and soluble IL-6R were associated with the pathophysiology of IBD using the colonic mucosal specimens obtained from patients with IBD. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was used to measure the levels of IL-6 and sIL-6R in organ cultures of mucosal tissues and in cell cultures of fractionated mucosal cells as well as in the serum. Expression of IL-6 and IL-6R was analysed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis using freshly isolated lamina propria mononuclear cells (LPMC).
Results: The levels of IL-6 and sIL-6R in organ cultures were substantially elevated in patients with IBD, especially in those with histologically active inflammation. In contrast, considerably higher levels of sIL-6R were detected in patients with other types of colonic inflammation who were included as inflammatory controls, but elevation of IL-6 was less prominent in such patients. The positivity for expression of IL-6 and IL-6R mRNA in LPMC was in parallel with the results obtained in organ cultures. In cell cultures, mucosal macrophages were the main cell type producing both IL-6 and sIL-6R on a per cell basis and other cell fractions including colonic epithelial cells and lymphocytes produced substantially lower amounts of these molecules. The levels of IL-6 and sIL-6R in organ cultures, but not those in the serum, showed a significantly positive correlation with the degree of clinical disease activity in patients with IBD.
Conclusions: Enhanced IL-6/sIL-6R-mediated immune and inflammatory responses may be implicated, at least partly, in the continuation of intestinal inflammation in patients with IBD.