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The objectives of this work were the analysis of the functional characteristics of circulating monocytes and T lymphocytes in patients with liver cirrhosis, and evaluation of the relationship with an increased exposure to antigens due to bacterial translocation. Forty patients with liver cirrhosis (20 with compensated cirrhosis and 20 with ascitic decompensation) and 20 healthy control subjects were studied. Bacterial translocation was evaluated by serum levels of lipopolysaccharide binding protein (LBP). Macrophage activation was studied by CD40 antigen expression. T lymphocytes were analysed for activation (CD25+, CD122+), effector function (CD8+CD45RO+CD57+), apoptosis (CD95+) and regulatory abilities, either by analysis of the membrane expression of co-stimulatory molecules CD80, CD86 and CD28, or by quantification of regulatory T cells CD4+CD25highforkhead box P3 (FoxP3). The percentage of activated monocytes and T lymphocytes in patients was increased significantly. The proportions of effector senescent cells and of those near to apoptosis were also significantly higher. With respect to these proportions, there were no significant differences between patients in function of the presence or absence of decompensation or in function of the increased or normal values of LBP. Conversely, those patients with elevated levels of LBP presented a significantly higher frequency of regulatory T cells than those with normal levels. In conclusion, patients with liver cirrhosis showed an intensive activation state with a higher percentage of cells committed to activation-induced death, even in non-advanced stages. It is possible that bacterial permeability and endotoxaemia contribute to the expansion of those lymphocyte populations implicated in the prevention of a more severe antigen-induced immunopathology.