The impact of prolonged strenuous endurance exercise on interleukin 18 and interleukin 18 binding protein in recreational cyclists

Int J Sports Med. 2005 Dec;26(10):836-40. doi: 10.1055/s-2005-837466.


Interleukin 18 (IL-18) is an important pro-inflammatory cytokine in the early phase of human immune response to microbial infections. The influence of strenuous exercise on the intrinsic balance of IL-18 and its endogenous antagonist IL-18 binding protein (IL-18 BP) is unknown, but could be of major relevance for the athlete's immune function empirically and epidemiologically proven to be altered after exhaustive exertion. To study the effect of strenuous marathon cycling on the interaction of IL-18 and IL-18 BP we investigated 37 male, healthy, and well-trained amateur cyclists participating in the Otztaler Radmarathon in Tyrol (distance: 230 km; cumulative altitude difference: 5500 m). IL-18 was measured by a commercially available ELISA-Kit and IL-18 BP by a novel IL-18 BP ELISA method. Free, unbound IL-18 was calculated according to a standard equation. The mean plasma level of IL-18 was 142.27 +/- 21.85 pg/ml pre-race, remained nearly unchanged (124.35 +/- 13.16 pg/ml; p = 1.0) immediately after competition (mean race time 9 h 38 min), but declined significantly 24 h afterward (62.92 +/- 6.80 pg/ml; p = 0.002). The plasma levels of IL-18 BP increased considerably immediately after and kept on rising for the following 24 h (pre-race: 1.51 +/- 0.20 ng/ml; immediately post-race: 3.84 +/- 0.26 ng/ml, p < 0.001; 24 h post-race: 4.33 +/- 0.42 ng/ml, p < 0.001). Therefore, the calculated free IL-18 was 122.06 +/- 16.79 pg/ml pre-race, declined to 82.86 +/- 8.59 (p = 0.05) immediately post-race and to 39.17 +/- 3.76 pg/ml 24 h post-race (p < 0.001). The respective percentages of this post-exercise reduction in free IL-18 plasma levels were 32 % and 68 %. The present study reveals an exercise-induced significant decline in free IL-18 accompanied by an immediate up-regulation of IL-18 BP and decreased IL-18 in marathon cyclists. This down-regulation of free IL-18 may (i) limit the magnitude and duration of a too excessive inflammatory response to the exercise-induced tissue damage and (ii) on the other hand contribute to the elevated susceptibility to infection in athletes undergoing exhaustive exercise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Down-Regulation / physiology
  • Glycoproteins / blood*
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Interleukin-18 / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Up-Regulation / physiology


  • Glycoproteins
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Interleukin-18
  • interleukin-18 binding protein