Background: Prenatal exposure to elevated interleukin (IL)-6 levels is associated with increased risk for psychiatric disorders with a putative neurodevelopmental origin, such as schizophrenia (SZ), autism spectrum condition (ASC) and bipolar disorder (BD). Although rodent models provide causal evidence for this association, we lack a detailed understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms in human model systems. To close this gap, we characterized the response of human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC-)derived microglia-like cells (MGL) and neural progenitor cells (NPCs) to IL-6 in monoculture. Results: We observed that human forebrain NPCs did not respond to acute IL-6 exposure in monoculture at both protein and transcript levels due to the absence of IL6R expression and soluble (s)IL6Ra secretion. By contrast, acute IL-6 exposure resulted in STAT3 phosphorylation and increased IL6, JMJD3 and IL10 expression in MGL, confirming activation of canonical IL6Ra signaling. Bulk RNAseq identified 156 up-regulated genes (FDR < 0.05) in MGL following acute IL-6 exposure, including IRF8, REL, HSPA1A/B and OXTR, which significantly overlapped with an up-regulated gene set from human post-mortem brain tissue from individuals with schizophrenia. Acute IL-6 stimulation significantly increased MGL motility, consistent with gene ontology pathways highlighted from the RNAseq data and replicating rodent model indications that IRF8 regulates microglial motility. Finally, IL-6 induces MGLs to secrete CCL1, CXCL1, MIP-1α/β, IL-8, IL-13, IL-16, IL-18, MIF and Serpin-E1 after 3 h and 24 h. Conclusion: Our data provide evidence for cell specific effects of acute IL-6 exposure in a human model system, ultimately suggesting that microglia-NPC co-culture models are required to study how IL-6 influences human cortical neural progenitor cell development in vitro.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-59
Number of pages17
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • Human induced-pluripotent stem cells
  • IL-6
  • Microglia
  • Neural progenitor cells
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders


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