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BACKGROUND: We previously demonstrated the local production of the pleiotropic cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the central nervous system (CNS) in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model for the human disease multiple sclerosis. MATERIALS AND METHODS: To assess the role of IL-6 in autoimmune CNS inflammation, we administered neutralizing antibodies to IL-6 in the EAE model. Their effect was examined at the clinical and histopathological level. Levels of administered antibody and IL-6 bioactivity were followed in serum and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). RESULTS: Systemically administered antibodies penetrated into the fluid CSF in animals in which EAE was induced. Administration of anti-IL-6 reduced the development of actively induced as well as adoptively transferred EAE and was associated with increased levels of IL-6 activity in the CSF and to a lesser extent in the serum. Anti-IL-6 was still effective when given 1 day before the onset of disease signs in adoptively transferred EAE. The disease-reducing effect of anti-IL-6 was also reflected at the pathological level by the absence of inflammatory infiltrates in the CNS. CONCLUSIONS: Our study indicates that IL-6 plays an important role in autoimmune CNS inflammation. However, due to the complex nature of the in vivo interactions of administered antibodies, the disease-reducing effect of the anti-IL-6 antibodies could be caused by neutralization of IL-6 activity or by enhancement of IL-6 activity via induction of higher IL-6 levels in the CNS.