Tocilizumab attenuates inflammation in ALS patients through inhibition of IL6 receptor signaling

Am J Neurodegener Dis. 2012;1(3):305-15. Epub 2012 Nov 21.


Patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have evidence of chronic inflammation demonstrated by infiltration of the gray matter by inflammatory macrophages, IL17A-positive T cells, and mast cells. Increased serum levels of IL6 and IL17A have been detected in sporadic ALS (sALS) patients when compared to healthy controls. Herein we investigate, in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), the baseline transcription of genes associated with inflammation in sALS and control subjects and the impact of the IL6 receptor (IL6R) antibody (tocilizumab) on the transcription and/or secretion of inflammation factors (e.g. cytokines) stimulated by the apo-G37R superoxide dismutase (SOD1) mutant. At baseline, PBMCs of four sALS patients (Group 1) showed significantly increased expression of TLR2 and CD14; ALOX5, PTGS2 and MMP1; IL1α, IL1β, IL6, IL36G, IL8 and TNF; CCL3, CCL20, CXCL2, CXCL3 and CXCL5. In four other sALS patients (Group 2), most of the genes just mentioned were expressed at near control levels and a significant decrease in the expression of PPARG, PPARA, RARG, HDAC4 and KAT2B; IL6R, IL6ST and ADAM17; TNFRSF11A; MGAT2 and MGAT3; PLCG1; CXCL3 were detected. Apo-G37R SOD1 up regulated the transcription of cytokines (e.g. IL1α/β, IL6, IL8, IL36G), chemokines (e.g. CCL20; CXCL3, CXCL5), and enzymes (e.g. PTGS2 and MMP1). In vitro, tocilizumab down regulated the transcription of many inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, enzymes, and receptors, which were up regulated by pathogenic forms of SOD1. Tocilizumab also reduced the secretion of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL1β, IL6, TNFα, GM-CSF, IFNγ, and IL17A by Group 1 PBMCs. Finally, sALS patients had significantly higher concentrations of IL6, sIL6R and C-reactive protein in the cerebrospinal fluid when compared to AD patients. This pilot study demonstrates that in vitro tocilizumab suppresses many factors that drive inflammation in sALS patients, with possible increased efficacy in Group 1 ALS patients.

Keywords: IL6 receptor signaling; Tocilizumab; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); chronic inflammation.