Background: The cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a multifunctional small-peptide molecule that is produced by various types of lymphoid and nonlymphoid cells. It plays a central role in hematopoiesis, host defense mechanisms, and acute-phase reactions, including regulation of inflammatory and immune responses.
Methods: Because a circadian time structure has been shown to characterize nearly every biologic function tested in human beings, including some cytokines, we sought to investigate the 24-hour pattern of circulating IL-6 in a group of 11 clinically symptom-free men (median age, 50 years; range, 46 to 72 years). Blood samples were obtained every 3 hours for 24 hours (eight samples per subject), and serum was frozen until analysis for IL-6 with a solid-phase ELISA.
Results: Average IL-6 values ranged from 1.66 to 5.38 pg/ml, with lowest to highest values within 24 hours ranging from 1.20 to 7.58 pg/ml (120% to 531%) between subjects. On average, values were greater than the mean throughout the night, with a peak at 01:00 hours and less than the mean throughout the day, with a nadir at 10:00 hours. A significant time effect was found by analysis of variance; and a high-amplitude circadian rhythm was described by the least-squares fit of a 24-hour cosine (p < 0.001; amplitude, 41% +/- 5%; acrophase, 02:16 +/- 00:28 hours). In addition, a positive correlation between mean IL-6 levels and age was found (r = 0.63, p = 0.037).
Conclusions: Because monitoring of endogenous cytokine levels is suggested for assessing immune function and pathologic condition, clinical decisions and immunotherapies may be significantly influenced by the large and predictable day-night variations in endogenous cytokine production and bioactivity.