The role of interleukin 1 in growth and metastasis of human cancer xenografts

Dina M. Elaraj, David M. Weinreich, Sheelu Varghese, Markus Puhlmann, Stephen M. Hewitt, Nancy M. Carroll, Elizabeth D. Feldman, Ewa M. Turner, H. Richard Alexander*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

244 Scopus citations


Background: Interleukin 1 (IL-1) is a pluripotent cytokine that promotes angiogenesis, tumor growth, and metastasis in experimental models; its presence in some human cancers is associated with aggressive tumor biology. The purpose of these studies was to characterize the role of IL-1 in human cancers and determine if inhibition of IL-1 via its receptor antagonist, IL-1Ra, alters tumor growth and metastatic potential. Methods: IL-1 mRNA or protein levels were determined in clinical tumor samples, cancer cell lines, and xenografts using quantitative reverse transcription-PCR or ELISA. Biological activity of tumor-derived IL-1 protein was shown via induction of permeability across endothelial cell monolayers. The effects of recombinant IL-1Ra on tumor lines in culture (cell proliferation and IL-8 secretion) and in xenograft models (tumor growth, metastatic potential, and intratumoral levels of IL-8 and VEGF) were characterized. The effects of IL-1Ra-mediated regression of xenograft growth on angiogenic proteins (IL-8 and VEGF) were evaluated in an IL-1-producing melanoma (SMEL) xenograft model. Results: IL-1 mRNA was highly expressed in more than half of all tested metastatic human tumor specimens including non-small-cell lung carcinoma, colorectal adenocarcinoma, and melanoma tumor samples. Constitutive IL-1 mRNA expression was identified in several cancer cell lines; tumor supernatant from these cell lines produced a significant increase in endothelial cell monolayer permeability, a hallmark event in early angiogenesis, in an IL-1-dependent manner. Moreover, systemic recombinant IL-1Ra resulted in significant inhibition of xenograft growth and neovessel density of IL-1-producing, but not non-IL-1-producing, tumor cell lines. Subsequent analysis of SMEL, a melanoma cell line with constitutive IL-1 production, showed that neither exogenous IL-1 nor IL-1Ra altered tumor cell proliferation rates in vitro. Gene expression analyses of IL-1Ra-treated SMEL xenografts showed a >3-fold down-regulation of 100 genes compared with control including a marked down-regulation of IL-8 and VEGF. Conclusions: These data show that the IL-1 gene is frequently expressed in metastases from patients with several types of human cancers. IL-1Ra inhibits xenograft growth in IL-1-producing tumors but has no direct antiproliferative effects in vitro; decreased tumor levels of IL-8 and VEGF may be an early surrogate of IL-1Ra-mediated antitumor activity. IL-1Ra may have a role alone or with other agents in the treatment of human cancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1088-1096
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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