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Cancer Res. 2011 Jan 15;71(2):424-34. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-10-1496. Epub 2010 Dec 1.

IL-6 trans-signaling in formation and progression of malignant ascites in ovarian cancer.

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Department of Oncology, National Taiwan University Hospital, Institute of Toxicology, National Taiwan University College of Medicine, Nankang, Taiwan.


Classic signaling by the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin 6 (IL-6) involves its binding to target cells that express the membrane-bound IL-6 receptor α. However, an alternate signaling pathway exists in which soluble IL-6 receptor (sIL-6Rα) can bind IL-6 and activate target cells that lack mIL-6Rα, such as endothelial cells. This alternate pathway, also termed trans-signaling, serves as the major IL-6 signaling pathway in various pathologic proinflammatory conditions including cancer. Here we report that sIL-6Rα is elevated in malignant ascites from ovarian cancer patients, where it is associated with poor prognosis. IL-6 trans-signaling on endothelial cells prevented chemotherapy-induced apoptosis, induced endothelial hyperpermeability, and increased transendothelial migration of ovarian cancer cells. Selective blockade of the MAPK pathway with ERK inhibitor PD98059 reduced IL-6/sIL-6Rα-mediated endothelial hyperpermeability. ERK activation by the IL-6/sIL-6Rα complex increased endothelial integrity via Src kinase activation and Y685 phosphorylation of VE-cadherin. Selective targeting of IL-6 trans-signaling in vivo reduced ascites formation and enhanced the taxane sensitivity of intraperitoneal human ovarian tumor xenografts in mice. Collectively, our results show that increased levels of sIL-6Rα found in ovarian cancer ascites drive IL-6 trans-signaling on endothelial cells, thereby contributing to cancer progression. Selective blockade of IL-6 trans-signaling may offer a promising therapeutic strategy to improve the management of patients with advanced ovarian cancer.

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