Soluble cytokine receptors are frequently found in human serum, most of them possessing antagonistic properties. The Interleukin 6 receptor (IL-6R) is found as a transmembrane protein on hepatocytes and subsets of leukocytes, but soluble isoforms of the IL-6R (sIL-6R) are generated by alternative splicing or by limited proteolysis of the ADisintegrin And Metalloproteinases (ADAM) gene family members ADAM10 and ADAM17. Importantly, the sIL-6R in complex with its ligand Interleukin 6 (IL-6) has agonistic functions and requires cells expressing the signal transducing ß-receptor gp130 but not the membrane-bound IL-6R. We have called this process IL-6 trans-signaling. Naturally occurring isoforms of soluble gp130 (sgp130), which are generated by alternative splicing, are natural inhibitors of IL-6 trans-signaling, leaving IL-6 classic signaling via the membrane-bound IL-6R unaffected. We used recombinant sgp130Fc protein and recently generated transgenic mice expressing high levels of sgp130Fc to discriminate between classic and trans-signaling in vivo, and demonstrated that IL-6 trans-signaling is critically involved in generation and maintenance of several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases including chronic inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, peritonitis and asthma, as well as inflammation-induced colon cancer.
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