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Immunol Cell Biol. 2014 Apr;92(4):331-9. doi: 10.1038/icb.2014.16. Epub 2014 Mar 11.

From cytokine to myokine: the emerging role of interleukin-6 in metabolic regulation.

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Cellular and Molecular Metabolism Laboratory, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Research Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


The lack of physical activity and overnutrition in our modern lifestyle culminates in what we now experience as the current obesity and diabetes pandemic. Medical research performed over the past 20 years identified chronic low-grade inflammation as a mediator of these metabolic disorders. Hence, finding therapeutic strategies against this underlying inflammation and identifying molecules implicated in this process is of significant importance. Following the observation of an increased plasma concentration of interleukin-6 (IL-6) in obese patients, this protein, known predominantly as a pro-inflammatory cytokine, came into focus. In an attempt to clarify its importance, several studies implicated IL-6 as a co-inducer of the development of obesity-associated insulin resistance, which precedes the development of type 2 diabetes. However, the identification of IL-6 as a myokine, a protein produced and secreted by skeletal muscle to fulfil paracrine or endocrine roles in the insulin-sensitizing effects following exercise, provides a contrasting and hence paradoxical identity of this protein in the context of metabolism. We review here the literature considering the complex, pleiotropic role of IL-6 in the context of metabolism in health and disease.

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