Background: It has been previously reported that IL-22, one of the cytokines secreted by Th17 cells, demonstrates both a protective and inflammatory promotion effect in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) through STAT3 signaling activation. We sought to investigate the role of IL-22 expression in colon cancer (CC).
Methods: The expression of IL-22 and related molecules were detected in human CC, the detail function and mechanism of IL-22 were investigated by in vivo and in vitro model.
Results: Our results demonstrated significant upregulation of IL-22 in human CC tumor infiltrated leukocytes (TILs) compared to peripheral lymphocytes. Moreover, our findings demonstrated that IL-22 expression was significantly higher in ulcerative colitis (UC) tissues versus normal colon tissues. Both IL-22 receptor α1 (IL-22RA1) and IL-23 were highly expressed in CC and UC tissues compared to normal controls. TILs exhibiting various IL-22 expression levels isolated from CC patients were demonstrated to enhance tumor growth and metastasis co-transplanted with Hct-116 cells underwent subcutaneous transplantation in mice model. Tumor growth and metastasis was promoted by STAT3 phosphorylation and upregulation of its downstream genes such as Bcl-xl, CyclinD1, and VEGF. In vitro studies confirmed the anti-apoptotic and pro-proliferation effect of IL-22 according to the BrdU cooperation assay and peroxide induced apoptosis analysis with or without the presence of IL-22.
Conclusion: In this study we demonstrated that excessive IL-22 in the CC and UC microenvironment leads to tumor growth, inhibition of apoptosis, and promotion of metastasis depend on STAT3 activation.