Interleukin 6 protects pancreatic β cells from apoptosis by stimulation of autophagy

FASEB J. 2017 Sep;31(9):4140-4152. doi: 10.1096/fj.201700061RR. Epub 2017 Jun 7.


IL-6 is a pleiotropic cytokine with complex roles in inflammation and metabolic disease. The role of IL-6 as a pro- or anti-inflammatory cytokine is still unclear. Within the pancreatic islet, IL-6 stimulates secretion of the prosurvival incretin hormone glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) by α cells and acts directly on β cells to stimulate insulin secretion in vitro Uncovering physiologic mechanisms promoting β-cell survival under conditions of inflammation and stress can identify important pathways for diabetes prevention and treatment. Given the established role of GLP-1 in promoting β-cell survival, we hypothesized that IL-6 may also directly protect β cells from apoptosis. Herein, we show that IL-6 robustly activates signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), a transcription factor that is involved in autophagy. IL-6 stimulates LC3 conversion and autophagosome formation in cultured β cells. In vivo IL-6 infusion stimulates a robust increase in lysosomes in the pancreas that is restricted to the islet. Autophagy is critical for β-cell homeostasis, particularly under conditions of stress and increased insulin demand. The stimulation of autophagy by IL-6 is regulated via multiple complementary mechanisms including inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) and activation of Akt, ultimately leading to increases in autophagy enzyme production. Pretreatment with IL-6 renders β cells resistant to apoptosis induced by proinflammatory cytokines, and inhibition of autophagy with chloroquine prevents the ability of IL-6 to protect from apoptosis. Importantly, we find that IL-6 can activate STAT3 and the autophagy enzyme GABARAPL1 in human islets. We also see evidence of decreased IL-6 pathway signaling in islets from donors with type 2 diabetes. On the basis of our results, we propose direct stimulation of autophagy as a novel mechanism for IL-6-mediated protection of β cells from stress-induced apoptosis.-Linnemann, A. K., Blumer, J., Marasco, M. R., Battiola, T. J., Umhoefer, H. M., Han, J. Y., Lamming, D. W., Davis, D. B. Interleukin 6 protects pancreatic β cells from apoptosis by stimulation of autophagy.

Keywords: diabetes; islet; pancreas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics
  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 / genetics
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infusion Pumps, Implantable
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-6 / pharmacology
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / genetics
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Signal Transduction


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • GABARAPL1 protein, human
  • Interleukin-6
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1