The proinflammatory cytokine IL-6 plays an important role in controlling T-cell differentiation, especially the development of Th17 and regulatory T cells. To determine the function of IL-6 in regulating allograft rejection and tolerance, BALB/c cardiac grafts were transplanted into wild-type or IL-6-deficient C57BL/6 mice. We observed that production of IL-6 and IFN-γ was upregulated during allograft rejection in untreated wild-type mice. In IL-6-deficient mice, IFN-γ production was greater than that observed in wild-type controls, suggesting that IL-6 production affects Th1/Th2 balance during allograft rejection. CD28-B7 blockade by CTLA4-Ig inhibited IFN-γ production in C57BL/6 recipients, but had no effect on the production of IL-6. Although wild-type C57BL/6 recipients treated with CTLA4-Ig rejected fully MHC-mismatched BALB/c heart transplants, treatment of IL-6-deficient mice with CTLA4-Ig resulted in graft acceptance. Allograft acceptance appeared to result from the combined effect of costimulatory molecule blockade and IL-6-deficiency, which limited the differentiation of effector cells and promoted the migration of regulatory T cells into the grafts. These data suggest that the blockade of IL-6, or its signaling pathway, when combined with strategies that inhibit Th1 responses, has a synergistic effect on the promotion of allograft acceptance. Thus, targeting the effects of IL-6 production may represent an important part of costimulation blockade-based strategies to promote allograft acceptance and tolerance.
Using interleukin-6 knockout mice as cardiac transplantation recipients, the authors show that interleukin-6 deficiency cooperates with costimulatory blockade in promoting allograft acceptance, and the mechanism underlining this effect lies in the limitation of effector T cell expansion, promotion of Treg function and their distribution in the graft.