The cells that make up blood vessel walls appear to participate actively in local immune and inflammatory responses, as well as in certain vascular diseases. We tested here whether smooth muscle cells (SMC) can produce the important inflammatory mediator IL6. Unstimulated SMC in vitro elaborated 5 X 10(3) pg recIL6/24h (i.e., biological activity equivalent to 5 X 10(3) pg recombinant IL6 (recIL6), as determined in B9-assay with a recIL6 standard). Several pathophysiologically relevant factors augmented IL6 release from SMC including 10 micrograms LPS/ml (10(4) pg recIL6), 10 ng tumor necrosis factor/ml (4 X 10(4) pg recIL6), and most notably 10 ng IL1/ml (greater than or equal to 3.2 X 10(5) pg recIL6). Production of IL6 activity corresponded to IL6 mRNA accumulation and de novo synthesis. SMC released newly synthesized IL6 rapidly, as little metabolically labeled material remained cell-associated. In supernatants of IL1-stimulated SMC, IL6 accounted for as much as 4% of the secreted proteins. In normal vessels SMC seldom divide, but SMC proliferation can occur in hypertension or during atherogenesis. We therefore tested the relationship between IL6 production and SMC proliferation in response to platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) in vitro. Quiescent SMC released scant IL6 activity, whereas PDGF (1-100 ng/ml) produced concentration-dependent and coordinate enhancement of SMC proliferation and IL6 release (linear regression of growth vs. IL6 release yielded r greater than 0.9). IL6 itself neither stimulated nor inhibited SMC growth or IL6 production. Intact medial strips studied in short-term organoid culture produced large quantities of IL6, similar to the results obtained with cultured SMC. These findings illustrate a new function of vascular SMC by which these cells might participate in local immunoregulation and in the pathogenesis of various important vascular diseases as well as in inflammatory responses generally.


H Loppnow, P Libby


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