Expression of the human IL-6 gene in EBV-immortalized normal human B lymphocytes following retroviral-mediated transduction rendered these cells highly tumorigenic in athymic mice. The tumors were lymphomas composed of the originally inoculated human lymphoblastoid cells. Co-injection of IL-6 expressing EBV-immortalized cells with IL-6 nonexpressing control cells resulted in increased tumorigenicity of the IL-6 nonexpressing cells. The lymphoblastoid cells expressing IL-6 were indistinguishable from parental cell lines in morphology and in a variety of cell surface characteristics, and did not exhibit growth advantage over parental cell lines in vitro, such that increased tumorigenicity is unlikely to depend upon a direct oncogenic effect of IL-6 on the B cells. Rather, at high concentrations, IL-6 markedly inhibits human lymphoblastoid cell killing by IL-2-activated murine splenocytes in vitro, suggesting that IL-6-related tumorigenicity might depend upon IL-6 inhibiting cytotoxicity at the tumor site. Thus, production of IL-6 by tumor cells that results in natural killer cell dysfunctions illustrates a novel mechanism of tumor cell escape from immune surveillance.
J Tanner, G Tosato