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Immunity. 2005 Jun;22(6):669-77.

A stress-induced, superoxide-mediated caspase-1 activation pathway causes plasma IL-18 upregulation.

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  • 1Laboratory of Host Defenses, Institute for Advanced Medical Sciences, Hyogo College of Medicine, Nishinomiya, Hyogo 663-8501, Japan.


Psychological/physical stresses are known to cause relapses of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. To reveal a mechanism by which noninflammatory stresses affect host defenses, responses to immobilization stress in mice were investigated, focusing on the role of a multifunctional cytokine, interleukin-18 (IL-18). In the adrenal cortex, the stress induced IL-18 precursor proteins (pro-IL-18) via adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and a superoxide-mediated caspase-1 activation pathway, resulting in conversion of pro-IL-18 to the mature form, which was released into plasma. Inhibitors of caspase-1, reactive oxygen species, and P38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) suppressed stress-induced accumulation of plasma IL-18. These inhibitors also blocked stress-induced IL-6 expression. This, together with the observation that IL-6 was not induced in IL-18-deficient mice, showed that IL-6 induction by stress is dependent on IL-18. In stressed organisms, IL-18 may influence pathological and physiological processes. Controlling the caspase-1 activating pathway to suppress IL-18 levels may provide preventative means against stress-related disruption of host defenses.

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