Signaling of human ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) revisited. The interleukin-6 receptor can serve as an alpha-receptor for CTNF.
Human ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) is a neurotrophic cytokine that exerts a neuroprotective effect in multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Clinical application of human CNTF, however, was prevented by high toxicity at higher dosages. Human CNTF elicits cellular responses by induction of a receptor complex consisting of the CNTF alpha-receptor (CNTFR), which is not involved in signal transduction, and the beta-receptors gp130 and leukemia inhibitory factor receptor (LIFR). Previous studies with rat CNTF demonstrated that rat CNTF is unable to interact with the human interleukin-6 alpha-receptor, whereas at high concentrations, it can directly induce a signaling heterodimer of human gp130 and human LIFR in the absence of the CNTF receptor. Here, we demonstrate that human CNTF cannot directly induce a heterodimer of human gp130 and LIFR. However, human CNTF can use both the membrane-bound and the soluble human IL-6R as a substitute for its cognate alpha-receptor and thus widen the target spectrum of human CNTF. Engineering a CNTFR-specific human CNTF variant may therefore be a prerequisite to improving the safety profile of CNTF.