Circulating levels of IL-1 family cytokines and receptors in Alzheimer's disease: new markers of disease progression?

J Neuroinflammation. 2018 Dec 12;15(1):342. doi: 10.1186/s12974-018-1376-1.


Background: Although the mechanisms underlying AD neurodegeneration are not fully understood, it is now recognised that inflammation could play a crucial role in the initiation and progression of AD neurodegeneration. A neuro-inflammatory network, based on the anomalous activation of microglial cells, includes the production of a number of inflammatory cytokines both locally and systemically. These may serve as diagnostic markers or therapeutic targets for AD neurodegeneration.

Methods: We have measured the levels of the inflammation-related cytokines and receptors of the IL-1 family in serum of subjects with AD, compared to mild cognitive impairment (MCI), subjective memory complaints (SMC), and normal healthy subjects (NHS). Using a custom-made multiplex ELISA array, we examined ten factors of the IL-1 family, the inflammation-related cytokines IL-1α, IL-1β, IL-18, and IL-33, the natural inhibitors IL-1Ra and IL-18BP, and the soluble receptors sIL-1R1, sIL-1R2, sIL-1R3, and sIL-1R4.

Results: The inflammatory cytokines IL-1α and IL-1β, their antagonist IL-1Ra, and their soluble receptor sIL-1R1 were increased in AD. The decoy IL-1 receptor sIL-1R2 was only increased in MCI. IL-33 and its soluble receptor sIL-1R4 were also significantly higher in AD. The soluble form of the accessory receptor for both IL-1 and IL-33 receptor complexes, sIL-1R3, was increased in SMC and even more in AD. Total IL-18 levels were unchanged, whereas the inhibitor IL-18BP was significantly reduced in MCI and SMC, and highly increased in AD. The levels of free IL-18 were significantly higher in MCI.

Conclusions: AD is characterised by a significant alteration in the circulating levels of the cytokines and receptors of the IL-1 family. The elevation of sIL-1R4 in AD is in agreement with findings in other diseases and can be considered a marker of ongoing inflammation. Increased levels of IL-1Ra, sIL-1R1, sIL-1R4, and IL-18BP distinguished AD from MCI and SMC, and from other inflammatory diseases. Importantly, sIL-1R1, sIL-1R3, sIL-1R4, and IL-18BP negatively correlated with cognitive impairment. A significant elevation of circulating sIL-1R2 and free IL-18, not present in SMC, is characteristic of MCI and disappears in AD, making them additional interesting markers for evaluating progression from MCI to AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Cytokines; IL-1 family; Inflammation; Mild cognitive impairment; Receptors; Subjective memory complaints.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / blood*
  • Cognition Disorders / blood
  • Cytokines / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Cytokine / blood*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Cytokines
  • Receptors, Cytokine