Acute and delayed effects of a single-dose injection of interleukin-6 on thyroid function in healthy humans

Metabolism. 1998 Oct;47(10):1289-93. doi: 10.1016/s0026-0495(98)90338-9.


Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is produced in response to inflammatory and noninflammatory stress and acts as the principal regulator of the acute-phase protein response. IL-6 stimulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and may be involved in the thyroid function abnormalities observed in nonthyroidal illness (NTI). This study examined the effects of single-dose IL-6 (3 microg/kg subcutaneously [s.c.]) in healthy human subjects: 19 received IL-6 and 13 received control saline injection. The dose of IL-6 was chosen on the basis of previous studies indicating that the peak IL-6 level after injection reaches concentrations observed with major stress such as abdominal surgery. Plasma levels of thyrotropin (TSH), free thyroxine (FT4), total T4, 3,5-3'-L-triiodothyronine (T3), 3,3'-5'-L-triiodothyronine or reverse T3 (rT3), and thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG) were measured over a 4-hour period and 24 hours after IL-6 injection. Plasma TSH levels were 27% lower 240 minutes after IL-6 relative to control levels (0.93 +/- 0.10 v 1.28 +/- 0.18 mIU/mL, P = .001), but recovered by 24 hours. Plasma FT4 was elevated at 240 minutes compared with the controls (1.16 +/- 0.04 v 1.03 +/- 0.03 ng/dL, P = .0002). T4 levels were also elevated at 240 minutes (7.8 +/- 0.36 v 7.05 +/- 0.37 microg/dL, P = .0003). TBG levels were not significantly changed at this time point. At 24 hours, T3 levels were 19% lower than the control values (87.6 +/- 5.1 v 108.5 +/- 5.4 ng/dL, P = .0002); plasma rT3 levels were elevated by 21% compared with control levels (30.6 +/- 1.7 v 24.3 +/- 1.3 ng/dL, P = .002), while FT4 levels returned to normal. The changes in T3/rT3 levels were reminiscent of the pattern observed in NTI that may be due to inhibition of type-1 5'-deiodinase. Cortisol levels were greatly elevated after IL-6 compared with control values; peak levels were observed 120 minutes after IL-6 injection (28.7 +/- 1.6 v 9.5 +/- 1.0 ng/dL, P < .0001). This elevation in cortisol may have contributed to the suppression of TSH levels and inhibition of type-1 5'-deiodinase activity. Alternatively, IL-6 may have suppressed TSH secretion via a direct suprapituitary action. The elevation of T4 and FT4 levels may have been due to inhibition of T4 degradation at the liver and/or by direct action of IL-6 on the thyroid gland. These findings demonstrate the potent effects of IL-6 on thyroid hormone metabolism in healthy individuals, and suggest that IL-6 may act directly or indirectly at two or more sites on thyroid hormone secretion and metabolism.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Temperature / drug effects
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Interleukin-6 / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Thyroid Gland / drug effects*
  • Thyroid Gland / physiology
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Thyroxine-Binding Proteins / analysis


  • Interleukin-6
  • Thyroxine-Binding Proteins
  • Thyrotropin
  • Hydrocortisone