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Shock. 2005 Dec;24 Suppl 1:45-51.

Acute pancreatitis: models, markers, and mediators.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0602, USA.


Acute pancreatitis has an incidence of approximately 40 cases per year per 100,000 adults. Although usually self-limiting, 10% to 20% of afflicted patients will progress to severe pancreatitis. The mortality rate among patients with severe pancreatitis may approach 30% when they progress to multisystem organ failure. The development of acute pancreatitis illustrates the requirement for understanding the basic mechanisms of disease progression to drive the exploration of therapeutic options. The pathogenesis of acute pancreatitis involves the interplay of local and systemic immune responses that are often difficult to characterize, particularly when results from animal models are used as a foundation for human trials. Experimental studies suggest that the prognosis for acute pancreatitis depends upon the degree of pancreatic necrosis and the intensity of multisystem organ failure generated by the systemic inflammatory response. This suggests an intricate balance between localized tissue damage with proinflammatory cytokine production and a systemic, anti-inflammatory response that restricts the inappropriate movement of proinflammatory agents into the circulation. The critical players of this interaction include the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1beta, TNF-alpha, IL-6, IL-8, and platelet activating factor (PAF). The anti-inflammatory cytokines IL-10, as well as TNF-soluble receptors and IL-1 receptor antagonist, have also been shown to be intimately involved in the inflammatory response to acute pancreatitis. Other compounds implicated in disease pathogenesis in experimental models include complement, bradykinin, nitric oxide, reactive oxygen intermediates, substance P, and higher polyamines. Several of these mediators have been documented to be present at increased concentrations in the plasma of patients with severe, acute pancreatitis. Preclinical work has shown that some of these mediators are markers for disease activity, whereas other inflammatory components may actually drive the disease process as important mediators. Implication of such mediators suggests that interruption or blunting of an inappropriate immune response has the potential to improve outcome. Although the manipulations of specific mediators in animal models may be promising, they may not transition well to the human clinical setting. However, continued reliance on experimental animal models of acute pancreatitis may be necessary to determine the underlying causes of disease. Full understanding of these basic mechanisms involves determining not only which mediators are present, but also closely documenting the kinetics of their appearance. Measurement of the inflammatory response may also serve to identify diagnostic markers for the presence of acute pancreatitis and provide insight into prognosis. Understanding the models, documenting the markers, and deciphering the mediators have the potential to improve treatment of acute pancreatitis.

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