Human peripheral blood granulocytes were analyzed for expression of interleukin-6 (IL-6) using reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and in situ hybridization. Neutrophil granulocytes from healthy donors were shown to express variable levels of IL-6. This expression was rapidly down-regulated after the removal of the cells from the circulating blood. In vitro culture of neutrophils abolished IL-6 expression, which could be reactivated by addition of GM-CSF to the culture medium. Constitutive expression of IL-6 was instead demonstrated in eosinophil granulocytes purified from normal donors and from a hypereosinophilic patient. In situ hybridization of unstimulated granulocytes confirmed that IL-6 expression occurs both in eosinophils and in neutrophils from peripheral blood. These findings show that granulocytes can actively contribute to cytokine expression in the peripheral blood and suggest their role in the afferent limb of the immune response, since by IL-6 production they might modulate T- and B- lymphocyte functions, granulocyte self-priming, and endothelial interaction.

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