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J Surg Res. 2002 May 15;104(2):118-23.

Interleukin-6 causes endothelial barrier dysfunction via the protein kinase C pathway.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.



Elevated levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) have been identified in a variety of systemic inflammatory states that are associated with endothelial barrier dysfunction, but the specific effect of IL-6 on endothelial permeability and the mechanism of action have not been fully examined. The current study evaluated the effect of IL-6 on endothelial permeability and on the distribution of the tight junctional protein ZO-1 and cytoskeletal actin. We also assessed the role of protein kinase C (PKC) in this process.


Confluent monolayers of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (n = 6) were exposed to IL-6 (50-500 ng/ml) in the presence or absence of the PKC inhibitor Gö6976 (0.1 microM). Transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) was measured at the onset of exposure and at 6-h intervals and compared with that of control cells using ANOVA with a Bonferroni multiple comparison test. Additional monolayers were exposed to IL-6, stained for ZO-1 and F-actin, and evaluated via fluorescence microscopy.


Interleukin-6 increased endothelial permeability as measured by TEER in a dose- and time-dependent manner. In the presence of PKC inhibitor, the IL-6-mediated increase in permeability was attenuated (18-h TEER 73% of control with IL-6 exposure vs 95% of control with IL-6 + Gö6976 inhibitor, P < 0.01). Microscopy revealed that permeability changes were accompanied by a redistribution of the tight junctional protein ZO-1 and cytoskeletal actin, increased cell contraction, and disorganization of the intercellular borders. Conclusions. The inflammatory cytokine IL-6 is an important mediator of increased endothelial permeability via alterations in the ultrastructural distribution of tight junctions and morphologic changes in cell shape. PKC is a critical intracellular messenger in these IL-6-mediated changes. A better understanding of this mechanism should allow the determination of rational treatment strategies for endothelial barrier dysfunction which occurs in inflammatory states.

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