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J Rheumatol. 2013 Apr;40(4):435-46. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.120725. Epub 2013 Feb 1.

Serum interleukin 6 is predictive of early functional decline and mortality in interstitial lung disease associated with systemic sclerosis.

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  • 1Department of Pneumology, Carlo Poma Hospital, Mantua, Italy.



Biomarkers of progression of interstitial lung disease (ILD) are needed to allow early therapeutic intervention in patients with scleroderma-associated disease (SSc-ILD).


A panel of 8 serum cytokines [interleukin 6 (IL-6), IL-8, IL-10, CCL2, CXCL10, vascular endothelial growth factor, fibroblast growth factor 2, and CX3CL1] was assessed by Luminex bead technology in exploratory cohorts of 74 patients with SSc and 58 patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Mortality and significant lung function decline [forced vital capacity (FVC) ≥ 10%; DLCO ≥ 15%] from date of serum collection were evaluated by proportional hazards analysis. Based on these findings, the prognostic value of serum IL-6, evaluated by ELISA, was assessed in a larger test cohort of 212 patients with SSc-ILD.


In the exploratory cohort, only serum IL-6 was an independent predictor of DLCO decline in both IPF and SSc-ILD. The IL-6 threshold level most predictive of DLCO decline within a year was 7.67 pg/ml. In the larger test cohort, serum IL-6 > 7.67 pg/ml was predictive of decline in FVC (HR 2.58 ± 0.98, p = 0.01) and in DLCO (HR 3.2 ± 1.7, p = 0.02) within the first year, and predictive of death within the first 30 months (HR 2.69 ± 0.96, p = 0.005). When stratified according to severity (FVC < 70%), serum IL-6 > 7.67 pg/ml was predictive of functional decline or death within the first year in patients with milder disease (OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.4-7.2, p = 0.007), but not in those with severe ILD.


In SSc-ILD, serum IL-6 levels appear to be predictive of early disease progression in patients with mild ILD, and could be used to target treatment in this group, if confirmed by prospective studies.

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