Is interleukin 6 the physiological regulator of thrombopoiesis?
Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a multifunctional cytokine that also influences megakaryocyte (MK) development. To delineate the relationship between IL-6 and thrombopoietin (TPO), the putative physiological regulator of MK maturation, serum IL-6 levels and platelet counts were correlated in various clinical disorders. IL-6 was measured by a [3H] thymidine incorporation assay using the IL-6-dependent B9 cell line; 1 U is approximately equal to 1 pg/ml of a recombinant (r)IL-6 standard. Specificity of the assay was confirmed by neutralizing rIL-6 and selected sera containing IL-6 activity with anti-IL-6 antibody. Samples (n = 120) were obtained from normal individuals and patients with leukemia, myeloproliferative and rheumatologic disorders, solid tumors, and after bone marrow transplantation and chemotherapy. Patients were also grouped as to whether they had an ongoing inflammatory process, that is, an active infection, solid tumor malignancy, or rheumatological disorder. Serum IL-6 levels were 4.6 +/- 1.4 U/ml for normal individuals and ranged up to 14.8 x baseline; moderate increases (greater than 2 x normal) were found in 21.5% of all patients. Whereas only 39% of thrombocytopenic sera (less than 150,000 platelets) had elevated IL-6 levels, 91% of these sera were from patients with an ongoing inflammatory process. Only 29% of the thrombocytotic sera (greater than 400,000) had elevated IL-6 levels, but 86% of these sera were from patients suffering from concurrent inflammation. Overall, 80% of all patients with elevated serum IL-6 had definitive ongoing inflammatory processes. There was no inverse relationship between platelet numbers and IL-6 levels. Thus, the idea that IL-6 is TPO appears doubtful. However, production of IL-6 during inflammation may result in increased platelet numbers and account for the secondary thrombocytosis observed in some patients.