Sex Differences in Interleukin-6 Responses Over Time Following Laboratory Pain Testing Among Patients With Knee Osteoarthritis

Chung Jung Mun, Janelle E. Letzen, Sabrina Nance, Michael T. Smith, Harpal S. Khanuja, Robert S. Sterling, Mark C. Bicket, Jennifer A. Haythornthwaite, Robert N. Jamison, Robert R. Edwards, Claudia M. Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Epidemiological studies suggest that women are not only at a higher risk for developing knee osteoarthritis (KOA), but also report greater symptom severity compared to men. One potential underlying mechanism of these sex differences may be exaggerated inflammatory responses to pain among women compared to men. The present study examined sex differences in interleukin-6 (IL-6) response over time following experimental pain testing. We hypothesized that women, when compared to men, would show greater IL-6 reactivity when exposed to acute pain in a human laboratory setting. Eighty-four participants (36 men and 48 women) with KOA scheduled for total knee arthroplasty underwent a quantitative sensory testing (QST) battery. A total of seven IL-6 measurements were taken, twice at baseline, once immediately after QST, and every 30 minutes up to 2 hours after QST. Consistent with our hypothesis, women, when compared to men, showed accelerated increases in IL-6 levels following laboratory-evoked pain, even after controlling for body mass index, marital status, clinical pain, evoked pain sensitivity, and situational pain catastrophizing. Given that KOA is a chronic condition, and individuals with KOA frequently experience pain, these sex differences in IL-6 reactivity may contribute to the maintenance and/or exacerbation of KOA symptoms. Perspectives: The present study demonstrates that women, when compared to men, exhibit greater IL-6 reactivity after exposure to laboratory-evoked pain. Such sex differences may explain the mechanisms underlying women's higher chronic pain risk and pain perception, as well as provide further insight in developing personalized pain interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)731-741
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - May 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronic pain
  • Interleukin-6
  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Quantitative sensory testing
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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