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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1997 Oct;21(7):1226-31.

Alterations in tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interferon-gamma, and interleukin-6 production by natural killer cell-enriched peripheral blood mononuclear cells in chronic alcoholism: relationship with liver disease and ethanol intake.

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Servicio de Medicina Interna II, Hospital Universitario, Salamanca, Spain.


No previous studies have been reported on human alcoholism in which the pattern of cytokine secretion by natural killer (NK) cells is explored. The goal of the present study was to evaluate the role of NK cells in the production of cytokines in patients with chronic alcoholism, analyzing at the same time the possible relationship between cytokine production and both alcoholic liver disease and ethanol (EtOH) intake. A total of 30 chronic alcoholic patients-11 without liver disease [alcoholics without liver disease (AWLD) group] and 19 diagnosed of alcoholic liver cirrhosis-were included in this study. Twenty-five age- and sex-matched healthy volunteers were analyzed as controls. Production of interferon (IFN)-gamma, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and interleukin (IL)-6 was performed on NK-enriched peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) after stimulation with IL-2 and IFN-alpha. In AWLD patients, the production of TNF-alpha was significantly reduced, compared with normal controls, under both IFN-alpha (p < 0.01) and IL-2 (p < 0.05) stimulation. In patients with cirrhosis, TNF-alpha production by PBMC enriched in NK cells varied depending on the EtOH intake status at the moment of evaluation. Accordingly, an increased concentration of this cytokine was detected in the supernatants of cirrhotic patients and active EtOH intake, particularly after IFN-alpha stimulation (p < 0.05); whereas, in patients with at least 1 year of alcohol withdrawal, TNF-alpha levels remained within normal range. The results on the production of IL-6 and IFN-gamma in AWLD and cirrhotic patients showed that only cirrhotic patients with a prolonged EtOH withdrawal period display abnormal production. Accordingly, in this group of patients, a significantly increased release of IL-6 was observed after both IFN-alpha and IL-2 stimulation (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05, respectively). By contrast, a lower IFN-gamma production (p < 0.005) was detected with respect to the control group. Our results point to the existence of an abnormal cytokine secretion by NK cells from chronic alcoholism patients, which depend on both the existence of liver disease and the status of EtOH intake.

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