Background: Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airway that is characterized by a Th2-type of immune response with increasing evidence for involvement of Th17 cells. The role of IL-6 in promoting effector T cell subsets suggest that IL-6 may play a functional role in asthma. Classically IL-6 has been viewed as an inflammatory marker, along with TNFalpha and IL-1beta, rather than as regulatory cytokine.
Objective: To investigate the potential relationship between IL-6 and other proinflammatory cytokines, Th2/Th17 cytokines and lung function in allergic asthma, and thus evaluate the potential role of IL-6 in this disease.
Methods: Cytokine levels in induced sputum and lung function were measured in 16 healthy control and 18 mild-moderate allergic asthmatic subjects.
Results: The levels of the proinflammatory biomarkers TNFalpha and IL-1beta were not different between the control and asthmatic group. In contrast, IL-6 levels were specifically elevated in asthmatic subjects compared with healthy controls (p < 0.01). Hierarchical regression analysis in the total study cohort indicates that the relationship between asthma and lung function could be mediated by IL-6. Among Th2 cytokines only IL-13 (p < 0.05) was also elevated in the asthmatic group, and positively correlated with IL-6 levels (rS = 0.53, p < 0.05).
Conclusions: In mild-moderate asthma, IL-6 dissociates from other proinflammatory biomarkers, but correlates with IL-13 levels. Furthermore, IL-6 may contribute to impaired lung function in allergic asthma.