The Asp358Ala variant in the interleukin-6 receptor (IL-6R) gene has been implicated in asthma, autoimmune and cardiovascular disorders, but its role in other respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has not been investigated. The aims of this study were to evaluate whether there is an association between Asp358Ala and COPD or asthma risk, and to explore the role of the Asp358Ala variant in sIL-6R shedding from neutrophils and its pro-inflammatory effects in the lung. We undertook logistic regression using data from the UK Biobank and the ECLIPSE COPD cohort. Results were meta-analyzed with summary data from a further three COPD cohorts (7,519 total cases and 35,653 total controls), showing no association between Asp358Ala and COPD (OR = 1.02 [95% CI: 0.96, 1.07]). Data from the UK Biobank showed a positive association between the Asp358Ala variant and atopic asthma (OR = 1.07 [1.01, 1.13]). In a series of in vitro studies using blood samples from 37 participants, we found that shedding of sIL-6R from neutrophils was greater in carriers of the Asp358Ala minor allele than in non-carriers. Human pulmonary artery endothelial cells cultured with serum from homozygous carriers showed an increase in MCP-1 release in carriers of the minor allele, with the difference eliminated upon addition of tocilizumab. In conclusion, there is evidence that neutrophils may be an important source of sIL-6R in the lungs, and the Asp358Ala variant may have pro-inflammatory effects in lung cells. However, we were unable to identify evidence for an association between Asp358Ala and COPD.

Author notes

1
The authors wish it to be known that, in their opinion, the first two authors should be regarded as joint First Authors
2
The authors wish it to be known that, in their opinion, the last two authors should be regarded as joint Senior Authors
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Supplementary data