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Behav Brain Res. 1996 Jun;78(1):37-41.

The participation of interleukin-6, a stress-inducible cytokine, in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease.

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Department of Psychiatry, Freiburg University Medical School, Germany.


A loss of synapses in the cortices of demented persons appears to be the primary correlate of Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, it is still unclear how synaptic pathology is connected to other pathological findings such as neurofibrillary and neuritic degeneration or inflammatory markers in AD. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) immunoreactivity has previously been detected in plaques in the brains of AD patients. In addition, elevated IL-6 concentrations have been measured biochemically in the brains of AD patients. Since transgenic mice bearing additional copies of the IL-6 gene under the control of a brain-specific promoter develop a marked cortical pathology including severe alterations of the dendritic arborization of cortical neurons, an IL-6 related inflammatory event could well be connected to the synaptic pathology in AD. In this study, we investigated whether IL-6 immunoreactivity in plaques could already be found prior to the onset of neuritic changes, or whether the presence of this cytokine is restricted to the later stages of plaque formation. While diffuse plaques represent an early stage of plaque formation, primitive and classic plaques (displaying neuritic pathology) are thought to reflect later stages of plaque pathology. Using a silver-staining method, we classified plaque stages in serial sections of paraffin-embedded cortices of clinically diagnosed and histopathologically confirmed AD patients and of control persons with no clinical history of dementia. Adjacent sections were stained with an antibody directed against IL-6. IL-6 was detectable in a significant proportion of plaques, but only in the brains of demented patients. In the AD cases, IL-6 was found in diffuse plaques in a significantly higher ratio as would have been expected from a random distribution of IL-6 among all plaque types. This observation suggests that IL-6 expression may precede neuritic changes and that in AD an immunological mechanism may be involved both in the transformation from diffuse to primitive plaques and in the development of dementia. The reasons for the increased expression of IL-6 in the brains of AD patients are still unknown. Basal IL-6 levels were found to be slightly elevated along normal aging. Based on several studies indicating that IL-6 expression is inducible also by psychological stress, one could speculate whether long-lasting stressful experiences may contribute to the pathological process underlying Alzheimer's disease.

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