IL-21 promotes myocardial ischaemia/reperfusion injury through the modulation of neutrophil infiltration.

25 Mar 2019

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: The immune system plays an important role in driving the acute inflammatory response following myocardial ischaemia/reperfusion injury (MIRI). IL-21 is a pleiotropic cytokine with multiple immunomodulatory effects, but its role in MIRI is not known. EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH: Myocardial injury, neutrophil infiltration and the expression of neutrophil chemokines KC (CXCL1) and MIP-2 (CXCL2) were studied in a mouse model of MIRI. Effects of IL-21 on the expression of KC and MIP-2 in neonatal mouse cardiomyocytes (CMs) and cardiac fibroblasts (CFs) were determined by real-time PCR and ELISA. The signalling mechanisms underlying these effects were explored by western blot analysis. KEY RESULTS: IL-21 was elevated within the acute phase of murine MIRI. Neutralization of IL-21 attenuated myocardial injury, as illustrated by reduced infarct size, decreased cardiac troponin T levels and improved cardiac function, whereas exogenous IL-21 administration exerted opposite effects. IL-21 increased the infiltration of neutrophils and increased the expression of KC and MIP-2 in myocardial tissue following MIRI. Moreover, neutrophil depletion attenuated the IL-21-induced myocardial injury. Mechanistically, IL-21 increased the production of KC and MIP-2 in neonatal CMs and CFs, and enhanced neutrophil migration, as revealed by the migration assay. Furthermore, we demonstrated that this IL-21-mediated increase in chemokine expression involved the activation of Akt/NF-κB signalling in CMs and p38 MAPK/NF-κB signalling in CFs. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Our data provide novel evidence that IL-21 plays a pathogenic role in MIRI, most likely by promoting cardiac neutrophil infiltration. Therefore, targeting IL-21 may have therapeutic potential as a treatment for MIRI. LINKED ARTICLES: This article is part of a themed section on Spotlight on Small Molecules in Cardiovascular Diseases. To view the other articles in this section visit