Circulating Interleukin-6 is Associated with Skeletal Muscle Strength, Quality, and Functional Adaptation with Exercise Training in Mobility-Limited Older Adults

  • Gregory J. GrosickiEmail author
  • B.B. Barrett
  • D.A. Englund
  • C. Liu
  • T.G. Travison
  • T. Cederholm
  • A. Koochek
  • Å. Von Berens
  • T. Gustafsson
  • T. Benard
  • K.F. Reid
  • R.A. Fielding
Original Research



Human aging is characterized by a chronic, low-grade inflammation suspected to contribute to reductions in skeletal muscle size, strength, and function. Inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), may play a role in the reduced skeletal muscle adaptive response seen in older individuals.


To investigate relationships between circulating IL-6, skeletal muscle health and exercise adaptation in mobility-limited older adults.


Randomized controlled trial.


Exercise laboratory on the Health Sciences campus of an urban university.


99 mobility-limited (Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) ≤9) older adults.


6-month structured physical activity with or without a protein and vitamin D nutritional supplement.


Circulating IL-6, skeletal muscle size, composition (percent normal density muscle tissue), strength, power, and specific force (strength/CSA) as well as physical function (gait speed, stair climb time, SPPB-score) were measured pre- and post-intervention.


At baseline, Spearman’s correlations demonstrated an inverse relationship (P<0.05) between circulating IL-6 and thigh muscle composition (r = -0.201), strength (r = -0.311), power (r = -0.210), and specific force (r = -0.248), and positive association between IL-6 and stair climb time (r = 0.256; P<0.05). Although the training program did not affect circulating IL-6 levels (P=0.69), reductions in IL-6 were associated with gait speed improvements (r = -0.487; P<0.05) in “higher” IL-6 individuals (>1.36 pg/ml). Moreover, baseline IL-6 was inversely associated (P<0.05) with gains in appendicular lean mass and improvements in SPPB score (r = -0.211 and -0.237, respectively).


These findings implicate age-related increases in circulating IL-6 as an important contributor to declines in skeletal muscle strength, quality, function, and training-mediated adaptation. Given the pervasive nature of inflammation among older adults, novel therapeutic strategies to reduce IL-6 as a means of preserving skeletal muscle health are enticing.

Key words

Inflammation IL-6 sarcopenia older adults aging 



We thank our participants for their time and efforts that made this study possible.


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Copyright information

© Serdi and Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory J. Grosicki
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • B.B. Barrett
    • 1
  • D.A. Englund
    • 1
  • C. Liu
    • 1
  • T.G. Travison
    • 3
    • 4
  • T. Cederholm
    • 5
  • A. Koochek
    • 6
  • Å. Von Berens
    • 5
  • T. Gustafsson
    • 7
  • T. Benard
    • 1
  • K.F. Reid
    • 1
  • R.A. Fielding
    • 1
  1. 1.Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human, Nutrition Research Center on AgingTufts UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Sciences and Kinesiology, Biodynamics and Human Performance CenterGeorgia Southern University (Armstrong Campus)SavannahUSA
  3. 3.Hebrew SeniorLifeMarcus Institute for Aging ResearchBostonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  5. 5.Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Clinical Nutrition and MetabolismUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  6. 6.Department of Food Studies, Nutrition and DieteticsUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  7. 7.Division of Clinical Physiology, Department of Laboratory MedicineKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden

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