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Circulation. 2003 May 20;107(19):2428-34. Epub 2003 May 12.

Elevated production of interleukin-6 is associated with a lower incidence of disease-related ischemic events in patients with giant-cell arteritis: angiogenic activity of interleukin-6 as a potential protective mechanism.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, Hospital Clínic, University of Barcelona, Institut d'investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer, Barcelona, Spain.



Patients with giant-cell arteritis (GCA) who develop a strong acute-phase response are at low risk of disease-related ischemic events.


To assess the potential protective role of proinflammatory cytokines in the development of ischemic events in GCA, we measured tissue expression (66 individuals) and/or circulating levels (80 individuals) of interleukin (IL)-1beta, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and IL-6 in patients with biopsy-proven GCA. Tissue expression was determined by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry. Circulating cytokines were determined by enzyme-linked immunoassay. We found that patients with disease-related ischemic events had lower IL-6 mRNA levels (5.9+/-2.1 versus 27.6+/-7.8 relative units, P=0.013), lower IL-6 immunohistochemical expression scores (1.5+/-0.9 versus 2.7+/-1, P=0.001), and lower circulating levels of IL-6 (13.6+/-2.1 versus 24+/-2.4 pg/mL, P=0.002) than patients without ischemic complications. No significant differences were found for either IL-1beta or TNF-alpha. We subsequently investigated direct effects of IL-6 on vessel wall components. We found that IL-6 stimulates endothelial cell proliferation and differentiation into capillary-like structures and induces full angiogenic activity in both ex vivo (aortic ring) and in vivo (chick chorioallantoic membrane) assays.


GCA patients with ischemic complications have lower tissue expression and circulating levels of IL-6 than patients with no ischemic events. IL-6 has relevant direct effects on vascular wall components that might be protective: IL-6 activates a functional program related to angiogenesis that may compensate for ischemia in patients with GCA.

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