The present roles and future perspectives of Interleukin-6 in biliary tract cancer

Cytokine. 2023 Sep:169:156271. doi: 10.1016/j.cyto.2023.156271. Epub 2023 Jun 16.


Biliary tract cancer (BTC) is a highly malignant tumor that originates from bile duct epithelium and is categorized into intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (iCCA), perihilar cholangiocarcinoma (pCCA), distal cholangiocarcinoma (dCCA) and gallbladder cancer (GBC) according to the anatomic location. Inflammatory cytokines generated by chronic infection led to an inflammatory microenvironment which influences the carcinogenesis of BTC. Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a multifunctional cytokine secreted by kupffer cells, tumor-associated macrophages, cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and cancer cells, plays a central role in tumorigenesis, angiogenesis, proliferation, and metastasis in BTC. Besides, IL-6 serves as a clinical biomarker for diagnosis, prognosis, and monitoring for BTC. Moreover, preclinical evidence indicates that IL-6 antibodies could sensitize tumor immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) by altering the number of infiltrating immune cells and regulating the expression of immune checkpoints in the tumor microenvironment (TME). Recently, IL-6 has been shown to induce programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression through the mTOR pathway in iCCA. However, the evidence is insufficient to conclude that IL-6 antibodies could boost the immune responses and potentially overcome the resistance to ICIs for BTC. Here, we systematically review the central role of IL-6 in BTC and summarize the potential mechanisms underlying the improved efficacy of treatments combining IL-6 antibodies with ICIs in tumors. Given this, a future direction is proposed for BTC to increase ICIs sensitivity by blocking IL-6 pathways.

Keywords: IL-6; biliary tract cancer; immune checkpoint inhibitors; immunotherapy; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic / metabolism
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic / pathology
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Cholangiocarcinoma* / metabolism
  • Cholangiocarcinoma* / pathology
  • Cytokines
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Interleukin-6
  • Cytokines
  • Antibodies