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Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2005 Jun;28(3):249-56.

Role of IL-6 in the neural stem cell differentiation.

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Department of Cell Fate Modulation, Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics, Kumamoto University, Honjo 2-2-1, Kumamoto, 860-0811, Japan.


In the developing brain neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes are differentiated from common multipotent progenitors called neural stem cells. We have examined the effect of cytokines on mouse neuroepithelial cells that are known to contain neural stem cells. Cytokines belonging to the interleukin (IL)-6 family and those classified into the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) family act in synergy on neuroepithelial cells to induce astrocyte differentiation. Cooperation of these two types of cytokines is explained by the formulation of a complex between their respective downstream transcription factors (signal tranducer and activator of transcription [STAT]-3 and Smad1), bridged by a transcriptional coactivator (p300). Whereas BMPs family cytokines are involved in astrocyte differentiation, they inhibit neuronal differentiation. This appears to change the fate of neural progenitor cells from neurogenesis to astrocytogenesis. Interestingly, during brain development, neuronal differentiation starts at a very early stage and continues throughout development, whereas astrocytes appear just before term. We have shown that astrocyte differentiation is largely dependent on IL-6 family cytokine-mediated STAT3 activation and that there exists a STAT3 binding element in the promoter region of the gene for the astrocyte marker glial fibrillary acidic protein. A cytosine residue in this element is highly methylated in neuroepithelial cells in a mid-gestational stage but becomes demethylated in accordance with brain development. Because this methylation inhibits STAT3 binding, we suggest that DNA methylation is a critical determinant in the developmental stage-dependent regulation of astrocytogeneis. In conclusion, fate of neural stem cells during development is regulated by cell-intrinsic programs, such as epigenetic modification (including DNA methylation), and signaling crosstalk of cell-external mediators (including IL-6 family cytokines).

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