OBJECTIVE: Interleukin-6 (IL-6) seems to be a key mediator of the increased bone loss that follows loss of ovarian function. Based on this and on evidence that oestrogen deficiency may also increase cell sensitivity to IL-6, we studied the effects of ovariectomy and of oestrogen replacement therapy on the serum levels of IL-6 and of soluble IL-6 receptor (sIL-6R) in vivo. DESIGN AND PATIENTS: Thirty-seven fertile women undergoing surgery for benign uterine diseases were divided into 3 groups and monitored for 12 months: hysterectomized women (n = 9), ovariectomized untreated women (n = 12) and ovariectomized women starting treatment with transdermal estradiol (E2, 50 microg/d) 1 month after surgery (n = 16). RESULTS: Hysterectomy alone caused no significant changes of sIL6R whereas serum levels of sIL-6R rose progressively after ovariectomy (mean +/- SEM: 31 +/- 9% and 38 +/- 7% over baseline, at 6 and 12 months, respectively; P < 0.01). Oestrogen replacement therapy prevented the increase of sIL6R over a 1-year period. A similar pattern was also found for serum IL-6 but the changes did not reach statistical significance. In ovariectomized (OVX) women there were significant correlations between serum sIL-6R levels and FSH (r = 0.59; P < 0. 01), oestradiol (r = - 0.43; P < 0.01), testosterone (r = - 0.41; P < 0.05), osteocalcin (r = 0.42; P < 0.05) and bone alkaline phosphatase (r = 0.44; P < 0.05). To examine whether oestrogen directly regulates sIL-6R secretion by bone cells, we studied in vitro the basal and phorbol ester (PMA) stimulated release of sIL-6R in a human osteoblastic cell-line (MG-63) and in a tumour-derived osteoclastic cell line (GCT-51). Osteoblastic (but not osteoclastic) cells spontaneously produced considerable amounts of sIL-6R and the protein kinase-C activator PMA (10-8 M) increased the release of sIL-6R by osteoblasts more than 3-fold. More strikingly, 17beta E2 (but not 17alpha) significantly inhibited both the spontaneous- and PMA-induced release of sIL-6R by osteoblastic cells (P < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate that oestrogen loss causes alterations of the IL-6 system, and that sIL-6R is under the direct inhibitory control of oestrogens both in vivo and in vitro.
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