Extensive research has shown that interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a multifunctional molecule that is both proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory, depending on the context. Here, we combine an evolutionary perspective with physiological data to propose that IL-6's context-dependent effects on metabolism reflect its adaptive role for short-term energy allocation. This energy-allocation role is especially salient during physical activity, when skeletal muscle releases large amounts of IL-6. We predict that during bouts of physical activity, myokine IL-6 fulfills the three main characteristics of a short-term energy allocator: it is secreted from muscle in response to an energy deficit, it liberates somatic energy through lipolysis and it enhances muscular energy uptake and transiently downregulates immune function. We then extend this model of energy allocation beyond myokine IL-6 to reinterpret the roles that IL-6 plays in chronic inflammation, as well as during COVID-19-associated hyperinflammation and multiorgan failure.
- Muscle, Skeletal/metabolism