Key Points

  • DCs are the principal source of IL-6 dysregulation after alloSCT.

  • IL-6–dependent GVHD is driven by classical signaling of IL-6R on donor T cells but is regulated by trans signaling.

Abstract

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after allogeneic stem cell transplantation (alloSCT) is characterized by interleukin-6 (IL-6) dysregulation. IL-6 can mediate effects via various pathways, including classical, trans, and cluster signaling. Given the recent availability of agents that differentially inhibit these discrete signaling cascades, understanding the source and signaling and cellular targets of this cytokine is paramount to inform the design of clinical studies. Here we demonstrate that IL-6 secretion from recipient dendritic cells (DCs) initiates the systemic dysregulation of this cytokine. Inhibition of DC-driven classical signaling after targeted IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) deletion in T cells eliminated pathogenic donor Th17/Th22 cell differentiation and resulted in long-term survival. After engraftment, donor DCs assume the same role, maintaining classical IL-6 signaling–dependent GVHD responses. Surprisingly, cluster signaling was not active after transplantation, whereas inhibition of trans signaling with soluble gp130Fc promoted severe, chronic cutaneous GVHD. The latter was a result of exaggerated polyfunctional Th22-cell expansion that was reversed by IL-22 deletion or IL-6R inhibition. Importantly, inhibition of IL-6 classical signaling did not impair the graft-versus-leukemia effect. Together, these data highlight IL-6 classical signaling and downstream Th17/Th22 differentiation as important therapeutic targets after alloSCT.

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