The use of IL-1 in humans is associated with dose-limiting toxicity which resembles that of TNF-alpha or IL-2. Activation of neutrophils is thought to contribute to the toxicity caused by these two cytokines. We studied the effect of IL-1 in vivo on changes in neutrophil numbers and neutrophil degranulation as well as on the formation of neutrophil agonists, such as complement activation products, and on levels of TNF, IL-6, IL-8, and nitrite/nitrate (as a measure of nitric oxide production). Six patients with metastatic melanoma were treated with 3 ng/kg recombinant human IL-1 beta daily. One hour after the start of the 30-min IL-1 infusion, which caused mild cardiovascular toxicity, plasma levels of IL-6 reached a peak of 25 +/- 9 ng/L (mean +/- SEM), IL-8 reached a peak of 311 +/- 100 ng/L at 2 h, and nitrite/nitrate peaked after 10 h to 89 +/- 27 mumol/L. IL-1 did not induce significant changes in plasma levels of TNF or of the complement activation products C3a and C4b/c. Although IL-1 induced neutrophilia, levels of elastase and lactoferrin did not change. The failure of IL-1 to degranulate neutrophils was confirmed in an ex vivo model with whole blood culture in which doses of up to 100 microgram/L IL-1 beta or IL-1 alpha failed to induce significant elastase or lactoferrin release, whereas TNF, tested as a positive control, was able to do so. These results demonstrate that, unlike TNF, IL-1 does not cause neutrophil degranulation in man, despite its ability to cause neutrophilia and the rapid release of IL-6, IL-8, and nitrite/nitrate.

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