Purpose: Interleukin-6 (IL-6) production and signalling are increased in the inflamed mucosa in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). As published serum levels of IL-6 and its soluble receptors sIL-6R and sgp130 in IBD are from small cohorts and partly contradictory, we systematically evaluated IL-6, sIL-6R and sgp130 levels as markers of disease activity in Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC).
Methods: Consecutive adult outpatients with confirmed CD or UC were included, and their disease activity and medication were monitored. Serum from 212 CD patients (815 measurements) and 166 UC patients (514 measurements) was analysed, and 100 age-matched healthy blood donors were used as controls.
Results: IL-6 serum levels were significantly elevated in active versus inactive CD and UC, also compared with healthy controls. However, only a fraction of IBD patients showed increased serum IL-6. IL-6 levels ranged up to 32.7 ng/mL in active CD (> 5000-fold higher than in controls), but also up to 6.9 ng/mL in inactive CD. Increases in active UC (up to 195 pg/mL) and inactive UC (up to 27 pg/mL) were less pronounced. Associations between IL-6 serum levels and C-reactive protein concentrations as well as leukocyte and thrombocyte counts were observed. Median sIL-6R and sgp130 levels were only increased by up to 15%, which was considered of no diagnostic significance.
Conclusions: Only a minority of IBD patients shows elevated IL-6 serum levels. However, in these patients, IL-6 is strongly associated with disease activity. Its soluble receptors sIL-6R and sgp130 do not appear useful as biomarkers in IBD.
Keywords: Biomarkers; Crohn’s disease; Inflammatory bowel diseases; Interleukin-6; Ulcerative colitis.