Increased circulating levels of soluble interleukin (IL)-6 receptor α (sIL-6Rα) are commonly observed during inflammatory responses, allowing for IL-6 signaling in cells that express the ubiquitous receptor subunit gp130 but not IL-6Rα, such as endothelial cells. Activation of Toll-like receptor (TLR)-4 or the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor leads to NF-κB-dependent increases in endothelial IL-6 expression. Thus, we hypothesize that danger signals may induce autocrine IL-6 signaling within the endothelium via sIL-6Rα-mediated trans-signaling. In support of this hypothesis, we recently demonstrated that conditional deletion in the endothelium of the IL-6 signaling inhibitor SOCS3 leads to rapid mortality in mice challenged with the TLR-4 agonist endotoxin through increases in vascular leakage, thrombosis, leukocyte adhesion, and a type I-like interferon response. Here, we sought to directly test a role for sIL-6Rα in LPS-treated human umbilical vein and dermal blood microvascular endothelial cells. We show that cotreatment with sIL-6Rα dramatically increases the loss of barrier function and the expression of COX2 and tissue factor mRNA levels induced by LPS. This cotreatment led to strong activation of STAT1 and STAT3 while not affecting LPS-induced activation of p38 and NF-κB signaling. Similar results were obtained when sIL-6Rα was added to a TNF challenge. JAK inhibition by pretreatment with ruxolitinib or by SOCS3 overexpression blunted LPS and sIL-6R synergistic effects, whereas SOCS3 knockdown further increased the response. Together, these findings demonstrate that IL-6 signaling downstream of NF-κB activation leads to a strong endothelial activation and may explain the acute endotheliopathy observed during critical illness.
Keywords: STAT3; endothelium; endotoxin; inflammation; interleukin; interleukin-6; permeability.