Recently, the serum level of interleukin (IL)-6 has been shown to correlate with disease progression and prognosis of cancer patients. However, the available information about the source and the pathophysiological regulation of IL-6 in cancer cells is limited. Thus, in this study, we tried to identify the source and the clinical roles of serum IL-6 in patients with cesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), and then further to characterize the biological regulation of IL-6 in ESCC cell lines. Sera and tissue specimens from 80 consecutive patients with ESCC were collected between 1993 and 1997. Additionally, three ESCC cell lines were used for in vitro study. The concentration of serum IL-6 was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), and correlated the survival time with measured IL-6 level. Expressions of IL-6, IL-6Rα (IL-6 receptor alpha) and gp130 in pathological sections and cell lines were characterized by immunological staining. Detection of IL-6 mRNA was determined by in situ hybridization (ISH) and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Up-regulation of IL-6 by n-sodium butyrate (n-BT) was studied in ESCC cell lines. The levels of serum IL-6 in patients with ESCC were significantly higher than those in the healthy controls. Serum levels of IL-6 were also shown to correlate with disease progression and survival. However, sCD8 levels and lymphocyte counts in the peripheral blood were not parallel to the changed pattern of serum IL-6. In pathological sections and ESCC cell lines, message of IL-6 was identified by ISH in cancer cells. Expression of IL-6 mRNA was further confirmed with RT-PCR in ESCC cell lines. Although IL-6 was detected in some ESCC cell lines, IL-6 gene expression and protein production could be induced or enhanced by n-BT treatment in all three cell lines. The serum levels of IL-6 are frequently elevated at diagnosis of ESCC, and are associated with poor prognosis. IL-6 that could be produced by cancer cells is up-regulated by n-BT.
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