Searching for the exercise factor: is IL-6 a candidate?
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For years the search for the stimulus that initiates and maintains the change of excitability or sensibility of the regulating centers in exercise has been progressing. For lack of more precise knowledge, it has been called the ‘work stimulus’, ‘the work factor’ or ‘the exercise factor’. In other terms, one big challenge for muscle and exercise physiologists has been to determine how muscles signal to central and peripheral organs. Here we discuss the possibility that interleukin-6 (IL-6) could mediate some of the health beneficial effects of exercise. In resting muscle, the IL-6 gene is silent, but it is rapidly activated by contractions. The transcription rate is very fast and the fold changes of IL-6 mRNA is marked. IL-6 is released from working muscles into the circulation in high amounts. The IL-6 production is modulated by the glycogen content in muscles, and IL-6 thus works as an energy sensor. IL-6 exerts its effect on adipose tissue, inducing lipolysis and gene transcription in abdominal subcutaneous fat and increases whole body lipid oxidation. Furthermore, IL-6 inhibits low-grade TNF-α-production and may thereby inhibit TNF-α-induced insulin resistance and atherosclerosis development. We propose that IL-6 and other cytokines, which are produced and released by skeletal muscles, exerting their effects in other organs of the body, should be named ‘myokines’.