Pro- versus anti-inflammatory cytokines: myth or reality

Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2001 Jun;47(4):695-702.


Inflammation is characterized by an interplay between pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are commonly classified in one or the other category: interleukin-1 (IL-1), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), gamma-interferon (IFN-gamma), IL-12, IL-18 and granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor are well characterized as pro-inflammatory cytokines whereas IL4, IL-10, IL-13, IFN-alpha and transforming growth factor-beta are recognized as anti-inflammatory cytokines. In this review, we point out that this classification is far too simplistic and we provide numerous examples illustrating that a given cytokine may behave as a pro- as well as an anti-inflammatory cytokine. Indeed, the cytokine amount, the nature of the target cell, the nature of the activating signal, the nature of produced cytokines, the timing, the sequence of cytokine action and even the experimental model are parameters which greatly influence cytokine properties.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / immunology*
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation Mediators / physiology*
  • Interleukin-6 / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Signal Transduction
  • Time Factors


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Interleukin-6