The role of interleukin-6 signaling in nervous tissue

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2016 Jun;1863(6 Pt A):1218-27. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2016.03.018. Epub 2016 Mar 23.


The cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory disorders and in the physiological homeostasis of neural tissue. Profound neuropathological changes, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease are associated with increased IL-6 expression in brain. Increased nocturnal concentrations of serum IL-6 are found in patients with impaired sleep whereas IL-6-deficient mice spend more time in rapid eye movement sleep associated with dreaming. IL-6 is crucial in the differentiation of oligodendrocytes, regeneration of peripheral nerves and acts as a neurotrophic factor. It exerts its cellular effects through two distinct pathways which include the anti-inflammatory pathway involving the membrane-bound IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) expressed on selective cells, including microglia, in a process known as classical signaling that is also critical for bacterial defense. In classical signaling binding of IL-6 to the membrane-bound IL-6R activates the β-receptor glycoprotein 130 (gp130) and subsequent down-stream signaling. The alternative, rather pro-inflammatory pathway, shown to mediate neurodegeneration in mice, termed trans-signaling, depends on a soluble form of the IL-6R that is capable of binding IL-6 to stimulate a response on distal cells that express gp130. A naturally occurring soluble form of gp130 (sgp130) has been identified that can specifically bind and neutralize the IL-6R/IL-6 complex. Thus, trans-signaling is blocked but classical signaling is completely unaffected. A modified, recombinant dimerized version of sgp130 (sgp130Fc) has successfully been used to block inflammatory processes in mice and may also be used in the clarification of IL-6 trans-signaling in neurological diseases.

Keywords: IL-6 signaling; Multiple sclerosis; Neurodegeneration; Sleep; Trans-signaling; gp130.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Cytokine Receptor gp130 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-6 / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Protein Binding
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Interleukin-6
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6
  • Cytokine Receptor gp130