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Alcohol Alcohol. 2004 Sep-Oct;39(5):386-92. Epub 2004 Aug 2.

Chronic alcoholism causes deleterious conditioning of innate immunity.

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Department of Immunology, Medical Faculty, University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.



To examine the immune consequences of chronic alcoholism in man, in relation to the known association between alcoholism and raised incidence and severity of infections.


In 36 alcoholics without liver disease, at the point of commencing withdrawal from alcohol, the following measures of immune competence were measured: the immunophenotypes of cells, acute phase proteins, the endotoxin-neutralizing capacity (ENC) of the serum, titers of anti-lipopolysaccharide (LPS) antibodies, and ex vivo cytokine inducibility in T cells and monocytes (TNFalpha, IL1beta, IL1RA, IL4, IL6, IL8, IL10 and IL12). The results were compared to those from healthy volunteers (day controls). Measures were repeated after 8-13 days of abstinence.


LPS-binding protein (LBP) and soluble CD14 (sCD14) were significantly increased in patients' sera at the outset of withdrawal, whereas reduced titers of anti-LPS IgG (P = 0.012) and a reduced ENC (P = 0.001) were measured. Only ENC rapidly returned to normal values after withdrawal therapy. Cytokine induction with phorbol ester showed no significant alterations in patients' T cells. Patients' monocytes, however, responded to LPS stimulation with enhanced IL1beta-, but reduced TNFalpha- and IL12-production (P = 0.004, P = 0.0042 and P = 0.001, respectively). While IL1- and TNFalpha-responses normalized after the withdrawal period, impairment of the IL12 response persisted throughout the observation period of 2 weeks.


Alcoholism results in a prolonged LPS-mediated hypoinflammatory conditioning of the innate but not the adaptive immune system, which is not reversed immediately after withdrawal. This alcohol-induced status of the immune system predisposes to infections and sepsis by blunting initial response to the pathogens.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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