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J Biol Chem. 1997 Aug 1;272(31):19625-31.

A Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus-encoded cytokine homolog (vIL-6) activates signaling through the shared gp130 receptor subunit.

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Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, San Francisco, California 94141-9100, USA.


The present studies analyzed the biologic activity of a gene product (vIL-6) encoded by the recently discovered Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) bearing 24.8% amino acid identity with human interleukin-6 (huIL-6). Based on this similarity, we hypothesized that this viral homolog might trigger the JAK/STAT pathway, which typically is engaged by IL-6 and other cytokines. Activation of receptor-associated Janus tyrosine kinases (JAKs) results in the subsequent phosphorylation of signal transducers and activators of transcription (STATs) leading to nuclear entry and transcriptional regulation of target genes. Treatment of HepG2 cells with culture medium containing recombinant KSHV-encoded vIL-6 led to rapid induction of JAK1 phosphorylation and a nuclear DNA-binding activity found to contain STAT1 and STAT3. An antibody to the IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) alpha subunit effectively neutralized the response to huIL-6 but failed to block STAT activation by vIL-6. In contrast, an antibody reactive with the gp130 subunit of IL-6R abrogated signaling of both responses. Moreover, a transfected cell line expressing human gp130 without IL-6Ralpha exhibited a robust response to vIL-6 but not to huIL-6. These results demonstrate that KSHV encodes a cytokine that activates specific JAK/STAT signaling via interactions with the gp130 signal transducing subunit independently of the IL-6Ralpha chain. This activity may have an impact on gp130-mediated signaling in response to native cytokines and thereby influence disease pathogenesis upon KSHV infection.

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