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Interleukin 21 controls tumour growth and tumour immunosurveillance in colitis-associated tumorigenesis in mice
  1. Dominik Jauch,
  2. Maria Martin,
  3. Gabriela Schiechl,
  4. Rebecca Kesselring,
  5. Hans Jürgen Schlitt,
  6. Edward K Geissler,
  7. Stefan Fichtner-Feigl
  1. Department of Surgery, University Medical Center Regensburg, Franz-Josef-Strauss-Allee 11, Regensburg, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Professor Stefan Fichtner-Feigl, Department of Surgery, University of Regensburg, Franz-Josef-Strauss-Allee 11, Regensburg 93053, Germany; stefan.fichtner{at}


Background and aims Colitis-associated tumorigenesis is a balance between proliferation of tumour cells and tumour immunosurveillance. The role of T-helper-cell-derived cytokines in tumour growth is not fully understood. In this study the authors investigated the influence of interleukin (IL) 21 on intestinal tumorigenesis.

Methods Chronic colitis was induced in IL-21−/− and littermate control wild-type mice with three cycles of 1.5% dextran sulphate sodium (DSS) over 7 days followed by 7 days of drinking water. Mice received an azoxymethane injection on day 0 of DSS-colitis to induce tumorigenesis. Immunohistochemistry was performed on inflamed and tumour-bearing areas of colons. Cytokine expression of isolated colonic CD4 T cells was determined by ELISA. Cytotoxic capacity of isolated colonic CD8 T cells targeting tumour cells was evaluated by flow cytometry and quantitative cytotoxicity assay. Apoptosis of tumour cells was determined by TUNEL assay of colonic sections.

Results Increasing expression of IL-21 was observed in chronic colitis, which showed functional importance, since IL-21 deficiency prevented chronic DSS-colitis development. Further, in the absence of IL-21, significantly fewer tumour nodules were detected, despite a similar extent of intestinal inflammation. In wild-type mice, 8.6±1.9 tumour nodules were found compared with 1.0±1.2 in IL-21-deficient mice. In tumour-bearing IL-21-deficient mice, intestinal inflammation was restored and partly dependent on interferon (IFN)-γ, whereas the inflammation in wild-type mice showed high IL-17A concentrations. In these rare tumours in IL-21-deficient mice, tumour cell proliferation (Ki-67) was decreased, while cell apoptosis was increased, compared with wild-type mice. Increased IFNγ expression in tumour-bearing IL-21-deficient mice led to increased tumour immunosurveillance mediated by cytotoxic CD8CD103 T cells targeting E-cadherin+ colonic tumour cells and therefore limited tumour growth.

Conclusion These results indicate that IL-21 orchestrates colitis-associated tumorigenesis, leading to the hypothesis that high IFNγ and low IL-17A expression reduces tumour cell proliferation and increases tumour immunosurveillance.

  • Interleukin-21
  • colitis
  • tumorigenesis
  • tumour immunosurveillance
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • cancer immunobiology
  • carcinogenesis
  • colon carcinogenesis
  • autoimmune disease
  • t lymphocytes
  • inflammatory bowel syndrome
  • inflammatory cells
  • cellular immunology
  • Crohn's disease
  • colorectal cancer
  • chronic ulcerative colitis
  • orthotopic liver transplantation
  • colorectal surgery
  • gastric surgery
  • live related-donor liver
  • pancreatic surgery
  • liver transplantation
  • gastrointestinal surgery
  • macrophages
  • immunoregulation
  • molecular immunology
  • immunology
  • cancer
  • abdominal surgery
  • cytokines

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  • See Commentary, p 1609

  • Funding This study was supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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