Involvement of interleukin-21 in the regulation of colitis-associated colon cancer

Carmine Stolfi, Angelamaria Rizzo, Eleonora Franzè, Angela Rotondi, Massimo Claudio Fantini, Massimiliano Sarra, Roberta Caruso, Ivan Monteleone, Pierpaolo Sileri, Luana Franceschilli, Flavio Caprioli, Stefano Ferrero, Thomas T. MacDonald, Francesco Pallone, Giovanni Monteleone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chronic inflammation is a major driving force in the development of cancer in many tissues, but the array of factors involved in this neoplastic transformation are not well understood. We have investigated the role of interleukin (IL)-21 in colitis-associated colon cancer (CAC), as this cytokine is overexpressed in the gut mucosa of patients with ulcerative colitis (UC), a chronic inflammatory disease associated with colon cancer. IL-21 was increased in the gut of patients with UC-associated colon cancer, and in mice with CAC induced by azoxymethane (AOM) and dextran sulfate sodium (DSS). After AOM+DSS treatment, IL-21 KO mice showed reduced mucosal damage, reduced infiltration of T cells, and diminished production of IL-6 and IL-17A. IL-21-deficient mice also developed fewer and smaller tumors compared with wild-type (WT) mice. Absence of IL-21 reduced signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 activation in tumor and stromal cells. Administration of a neutralizing IL-21 antibody to WT mice after the last DSS cycle decreased the colonic T cell infiltrate and the production of IL-6 and IL-17A and reduced the number of tumors. These observations indicate that IL-21 amplifies an inflammatory milieu that promotes CAC, and suggest that IL-21 blockade may be useful in reducing the risk of UC-associated colon cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2279-2290
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Oct 24 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy

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