Interleukins and their signaling pathways in the Reactome biological pathway database

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2018 Apr;141(4):1411-1416. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.12.992. Epub 2018 Feb 21.


Background: There is a wealth of biological pathway information available in the scientific literature, but it is spread across many thousands of publications. Alongside publications that contain definitive experimental discoveries are many others that have been dismissed as spurious, found to be irreproducible, or are contradicted by later results and consequently now considered controversial. Many descriptions and images of pathways are incomplete stylized representations that assume the reader is an expert and familiar with the established details of the process, which are consequently not fully explained. Pathway representations in publications frequently do not represent a complete, detailed, and unambiguous description of the molecules involved; their precise posttranslational state; or a full account of the molecular events they undergo while participating in a process. Although this might be sufficient to be interpreted by an expert reader, the lack of detail makes such pathways less useful and difficult to understand for anyone unfamiliar with the area and of limited use as the basis for computational models.

Objective: Reactome was established as a freely accessible knowledge base of human biological pathways. It is manually populated with interconnected molecular events that fully detail the molecular participants linked to published experimental data and background material by using a formal and open data structure that facilitates computational reuse. These data are accessible on a Web site in the form of pathway diagrams that have descriptive summaries and annotations and as downloadable data sets in several formats that can be reused with other computational tools. The entire database and all supporting software can be downloaded and reused under a Creative Commons license.

Methods: Pathways are authored by expert biologists who work with Reactome curators and editorial staff to represent the consensus in the field. Pathways are represented as interactive diagrams that include as much molecular detail as possible and are linked to literature citations that contain supporting experimental details. All newly created events undergo a peer-review process before they are added to the database and made available on the associated Web site. New content is added quarterly.

Results: The 63rd release of Reactome in December 2017 contains 10,996 human proteins participating in 11,426 events in 2,179 pathways. In addition, analytic tools allow data set submission for the identification and visualization of pathway enrichment and representation of expression profiles as an overlay on Reactome pathways. Protein-protein and compound-protein interactions from several sources, including custom user data sets, can be added to extend pathways. Pathway diagrams and analytic result displays can be downloaded as editable images, human-readable reports, and files in several standard formats that are suitable for computational reuse. Reactome content is available programmatically through a REpresentational State Transfer (REST)-based content service and as a Neo4J graph database. Signaling pathways for IL-1 to IL-38 are hierarchically classified within the pathway "signaling by interleukins." The classification used is largely derived from Akdis et al.

Conclusion: The addition to Reactome of a complete set of the known human interleukins, their receptors, and established signaling pathways linked to annotations of relevant aspects of immune function provides a significant computationally accessible resource of information about this important family. This information can be extended easily as new discoveries become accepted as the consensus in the field. A key aim for the future is to increase coverage of gene expression changes induced by interleukin signaling.

Keywords: Interleukins; Reactome; database; diagram; illustration; pathways; signaling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Interleukins / immunology*
  • Internet
  • Protein Interaction Maps / immunology
  • Proteins / immunology
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*
  • Software


  • Interleukins
  • Proteins