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J Biol Chem. 2003 Nov 14;278(46):45777-84. Epub 2003 Sep 2.

Interleukin-6 (IL-6) induces insulin resistance in 3T3-L1 adipocytes and is, like IL-8 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, overexpressed in human fat cells from insulin-resistant subjects.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, Lundberg Laboratory for Diabetes Research, The Sahlgrenska Academy, Göteborg University, SE-413 45 Göteborg, Sweden.


Several studies have shown a relationship between interleukin (IL) 6 levels and insulin resistance. We here show that human subcutaneous adipose cells, like 3T3-L1 cells, are target cells for IL-6. To examine putative mechanisms and cross-talk with insulin, 3T3-L1 adipocytes were cultured for different times with IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). IL-6, in contrast to TNF-alpha, did not increase pS-307 of insulin-receptor substrate (IRS)-1 or JNK activation. However, IL-6, like TNF-alpha exerted long term inhibitory effects on the gene transcription of IRS-1, GLUT-4, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma. This effect of IL-6 was accompanied by a marked reduction in IRS-1, but not IRS-2, protein expression, and insulin-stimulated tyrosine phosphorylation, whereas no inhibitory effect was seen on the insulin receptor tyrosine phosphorylation. Consistent with the reduced GLUT-4 mRNA, insulin-stimulated glucose transport was also significantly reduced by IL-6. An important interaction with TNF-alpha was found because TNF-alpha markedly increased IL-6 mRNA and protein secretion. These results show that IL-6, through effects on gene transcription, is capable of impairing insulin signaling and action but, in contrast to TNF-alpha, IL-6 does not increase pS-307 (or pS-612) of IRS-1. The link between IL-6 and insulin resistance in man was further corroborated by the finding that the expression of IL-6, like that of TNF-alpha and IL-8, was markedly increased ( approximately 15-fold) in human fat cells from insulin-resistant individuals. We conclude that IL-6 can play an important role in insulin resistance in man and, furthermore, that it may act in concert with other cytokines that also are up-regulated in adipose cells in insulin resistance.

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