Changes in hepatic immunoregulatory cytokines in patients with metastatic colorectal carcinoma: Implications for hepatic anti-tumour immunity

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Abstract

The hepatic immunological environment, dominated by NK and NKR+ T cells, seems specialised to respond to malignant challenge. Ineffective immune responses to malignancy are likely determined by factors including alterations in the local cytokine profile. This study examines the cytokine milieu of normal and tumour-bearing liver, quantifying pro-/anti-inflammatory cytokines using modified ELISAs and real-time quantitative PCR. Cytokine protein was localised using immunohistochemistry. We demonstrate an active cytokine environment in normal liver, with high levels of inflammatory and regulatory cytokines. Inflammatory IFN-γ was increased in tumour-bearing liver (p < 0.0001). However, a much greater increase in anti-inflammatory IL-10, produced by non-parenchymal cells (p < 0.0005), resulted in a reduced IFN-γ:IL-10 ratio in tumour-bearing liver (p < 0.02). In contrast, immunosuppressive TGF-β and IL-13 were significantly downregulated (p < 0.02). Furthermore, IL-2 was not increased and IL-15 was reduced (p < 0.02). The IFN-γ inducing cytokine, IL-18 was increased in tumour-bearing liver (p < 0.02), while pro-inflammatory TNF-α was suppressed (p < 0.05). These results suggest that, whilst there is a significant inflammatory immune response in tumour-bearing liver, evidenced by increased levels of IFN-γ, disproportionate increase in IL-10 may be a key factor in facilitating tumour progression. Therapies aimed at antagonising IL-10-mediated immunosuppression may prove a useful strategy in the future treatment of metastatic disease.

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