Since monocytes and macrophages that arise during the culture of bone marrow progenitor cells are potential sources of interleukin 6 (IL-6), we investigated whether auto- or paracrine production of this factor is involved in colony formation by normal hematopoietic progenitor cells. We added a polyclonal anti-IL-6 antiserum and a monoclonal anti-IL-6 antibody to cultures of monocyte- and T cell-depleted bone marrow cells. Colony formation was stimulated with granulocyte/monocyte-colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), monocyte-CSF, or IL-3. Addition of anti-IL-6 antibody resulted in decreased numbers of monocytic colonies to 40-50% of control values, whereas the numbers of granulocytic colonies were not altered. The inhibitory effect was preserved in cultures of CD34(+)-enriched bone marrow cells. As a second approach, we added a monoclonal antibody directed against the IL-6 receptor to cultures of monocyte- and T cell-depleted bone marrow cells. This antibody almost completely inhibited the growth of monocytic colonies, again without decreasing the number of granulocytic colonies. Finally, the importance of IL-6 in monocytopoiesis was demonstrated in serum-deprived bone marrow cultures: addition of exogenous IL-6 to cultures stimulated with GM-CSF resulted in increased numbers of monocytic colonies. Our results indicate that the permissive presence of IL-6 is required for optimal monocytic colony formation by bone marrow progenitor cells.

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