Stress activation of IL-6 neurons in the hypothalamus

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2010 Jul;299(1):R343-51. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00131.2010. Epub 2010 Apr 28.


An emerging literature attests to the ability of psychological stress to alter the inflammatory cytokine environment of the body. While the ability of stress to cause cytokine release is well established, the neural pathways involved in this control have yet to be identified. This study tests the hypothesis that IL-6 neurons of the hypothalamo-neurohypophyseal system (HNS), a neural pathway proposed to secrete IL-6 into the circulation, are activated in response to psychological stress. Colocalization studies confirm robust expression of IL-6 in cell bodies and fibers of vasopressin (but not oxytocin) neurons of the paraventricular (PVN) and supraoptic nucleus (SON) of the rat hypothalamus. In response to restraint, there was a greater increase in c-Fos expression in SON IL-6-positive (IL-6+) neurons. In addition, both psychogenic (restraint) or systemic stress (hypoxia) lead to phosphorylated ERK induction only in IL-6+ magnocellular neurons, indicating selective activation of the MAPK signaling pathway in the IL-6 subset of magnocellular neurons. Finally, restraint upregulated IL-6 mRNA expression in both the PVN and SON, which was accompanied by a four-fold increase in circulating IL-6. The data indicate that noninflammatory stressors selectively activate IL-6 magnocellular neurons, upregulate IL-6 gene expression in the PVN and SON, and increase plasma IL-6. In summary, results show that IL-6 neurons of the HNS are a recruited component of the response to psychological stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginine Vasopressin / genetics
  • Arginine Vasopressin / metabolism
  • Genes
  • Hypothalamus / cytology*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Oxytocin / blood
  • Oxytocin / genetics
  • Oxytocin / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Supraoptic Nucleus / cytology
  • Supraoptic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation
  • Vasopressins / genetics
  • Vasopressins / metabolism


  • Interleukin-6
  • Vasopressins
  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Oxytocin