Interleukin-6 and its receptor: from bench to bedside

Med Microbiol Immunol. 2006 Dec;195(4):173-83. doi: 10.1007/s00430-006-0019-9. Epub 2006 May 31.


Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is an inflammatory cytokine with a well-documented role in inflammation and cancer. The cytokine binds to a membrane bound IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) and this complex associates with two molecules of the signal transducing protein gp130 thereby initiating intracellular signaling. While gp130 is present on most if not all cells of the body, the IL-6R is only present on some cells, mainly hepatocytes and several leukocytes. Cells, which only express gp130 and no IL-6R are refractory to IL-6 signals. We have shown earlier that the IL-6R can exist as a soluble protein generated by limited proteolysis of the membrane bound receptor or by translation from an alternatively spliced mRNA. This soluble IL-6R (sIL-6R) can bind the ligand IL-6 and the soluble complex of sIL-6R and IL-6 can bind to gp130 on cells which lack the membrane bound IL-6R and trigger gp130 signaling. We have named this process 'trans-signaling'. We will review data, which clearly show that IL-6 uses classical signaling via the membrane bound receptor and trans-signaling via the soluble receptor in various physiological and pathophysiological situations. Furthermore, we have developed designer cytokines, which can specifically enhance or inhibit IL-6 trans-signaling. These designer cytokines have been shown to be extremely useful to in therapeutic applications ranging from the long-term culture of stem cells and enhancing liver regeneration up to the blockade of chronic inflammation and cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-6 / physiology*
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / chemistry
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / genetics
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / physiology
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Interleukin-6
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins