Interleukin-4 enhances proliferation of human pancreatic cancer cells: evidence for autocrine and paracrine actions

Br J Cancer. 2005 Mar 14;92(5):921-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6602416.


Interleukin-4 (IL-4) is an immunomodulatory cytokine, which can inhibit the growth of tumour cells. Pancreatic cancer cells and tissues express high levels of IL-4 receptors. The aim of this study was to characterise the effects of IL-4 on the growth and signalling pathways of pancreatic cancer cells. Cell growth was determined by cell counting and MTT assays in association with fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis, IL-4 expression using ELISA and real-time PCR techniques, and signal transduction using immunoprecipitation or immunoblot analysis. We now report for the first time that IL-4 significantly enhanced the growth of five out of six cultured pancreatic cancer cell lines in a dose-dependent manner in association with an increased fraction of cells in S-phase. Surprisingly, all six cell lines expressed endogenous IL-4, and IL-4 was detectable in the supernatant. Incubating cells with neutralising IL-4 antibodies resulted in a significant inhibition of basal growth in three cell lines, including IL-4-unresponsive MIA PaCa-2 cells, which however expressed the highest endogenous IL-4 levels. Interleukin-4 enhanced activity of MAPK, Akt-1, and Stat3 in IL-4-responsive, but not in IL-4-unresponsive MIA PaCa-2 cells; however, IL-4 enhanced tyrosine phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1 and -2 in all cell lines. Our results demonstrate for the first time that pancreatic cancer cells produce IL-4 and that IL-4 can act as a growth factor in pancreatic cancer cells. Together with the observation that neutralising IL-4 antibodies can inhibit the growth of these cells, our results suggest that IL-4 may act as an autocrine growth factor in pancreatic cancer cells and also give rise to the possibility that cancer-derived IL-4 may suppress cancer-directed immunosurveillance in vivo in addition to its growth-promoting effects, thereby facilitating pancreatic tumour growth and metastasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / immunology
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-4 / genetics*
  • Interleukin-4 / immunology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Interleukin-4