Inflammation is Controlled by Cytokines

What are Cytokines?

Cytokines are a group of proteins, peptides and glycoproteins produced by specific cells of the immune system. They are signalling molecules that control and regulate immunity, inflammation and hematopoiesis. Through various mechanisms, cytokines are involved in the pathogenesis of acute and chronic urticaria. 

Where are Cytokines Produced?

Cytokines are produced by a wide range of immune cells. This involves a broad range of cells, including macrophages, B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes and mast cells, as well as endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and various stromal cells. Some cytokines may be produced by more than one type of cell.

Specific Types of Cytokines

The term cytokine is a general term – there are other special types of cytokines such as:

Proinflammatory Cytokines

Inflammatory abnormalities are seen in a wide range of human disease, including acute urticaria and chronic urticaria. Cytokines are regulators of our body’s response to infection, immune response, inflammation and trauma. Proinflammatory cytokines are those that worsen inflammation and promote it.

We have two main groups of inflammatory cytokines.

  1. Those involved in acute inflammation
    • IL-1, TNF-α, IL-6, IL-11, IL-8
  1. Those involved in chronic inflammation
    • Humoral inflammation: IL-3, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-7, IL-9, IL-10, IL-13, and transforming growth factor-b (TGF-b)
    • Cellular inflammation: IL-1, IL-2, IL-3, IL-4, IL-7, IL-9, IL-10, IL-12, interferons (IFNs), IFN-g inducing factor (IGIF), TGF- β, and TNF- α and TNF-β

We can target treatment through several ways:

  • neutralizing antibodies
  • blocking cytokine receptors
  • Inhibiting proteases that convert inactive precursors to active, mature molecules

It may be difficult to target every one of the inflammatory cytokines listed above, but we can focus on IL-1 and TNF (and in some cases IFN- γ). These particular cytokines work together to initiate a cascade of inflammatory mediators. Think of these as triggers which get the whole process started. When patients with acute or chronic urticaria work on immune balance, we often target some of the inflammatory cytokines, with the goal of reducing them. 

Anti-inflammatory Cytokines

Overall inflammation in the body is based on the balance between these anti-inflammatory cytokines and the pro-inflammatory cytokines discussed above.

The anti-inflammatory cytokines are:

  • IL- receptor antagonist, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, IL-11, IL-13

IL-6 is considered inflammatory or anti-inflammatory based on the circumstance. The immune system is a confusing network of cell sometimes!

IL-10 a Major Anti-inflammatory

Of all the above cytokines, IL-10 is the most anti-inflammatory. It represses the inflammatory cytokines (namely TNF-α, IL-6, IL-1)

When patients with neuropathic pain were given IL-10 (as a treatment, in a lab setting), it was found to be very helpful with pain.

Those with chronic widespread pain have been found to have low IL-10 and IL-4.

graphic showing inflammatory cytokines and anti-inflammatory cytokines


About the Author

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I'm Johann de Chickera, a Naturopathic Doctor, practicing in Ontario, Canada. My clinical practice relies on keeping up with the most up-to-date research and continued education. This blog serves as a way to provide others with a compilation of everything I've learned along the way.

If you'd like to see me in practice, please click here, or the Book an Appointment tab at the top of this page. 


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