The role of interleukin 6 in the pathophysiology of rheumatoid arthritis

Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2010 Oct;2(5):247-56. doi: 10.1177/1759720X10378372.


Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a pleiotropic cytokine with a pivotal role in the pathophysiology of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It is found in abundance in the synovial fluid and serum of patients with RA and the level correlates with the disease activity and joint destruction. IL-6 can promote synovitis and joint destruction by stimulating neutrophil migration, osteoclast maturation and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-stimulated pannus proliferation. IL-6 may also be mediating many of the systematic manifestations of RA including inducing the acute-phase reaction [including C-reactive protein (CRP)], anaemia through hecipidin production, fatigue via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis) and osteoporosis from its effect on osteoclasts. In addition, IL-6 may contribute to the induction and maintenance of the autoimmune process through B-cell maturation and TH-17 differentiation. All of the above makes IL-6 blockade a desirable therapeutic option in the treatment of RA. Following successful animal studies, a humanized anti-interleukin-6 receptor (anti-IL-6R) monoclonal antibody, tocilizumab (TCZ), entered into clinical trials and it has been shown to be an effective treatment in several large phase III clinical trials in RA with rapid and sustained improvement in disease activity, reducing radiographic joint damage and improving physical function.

Keywords: interleukin 6; pathophysiology; receptor blockade; rheumatoid arthritis.