Background/aims: Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) is a mediator of inflammation and cellular immune response. Soluble TNF receptors (sTNFR) sTNF-R55 and sTNF-R75, which compete with cellular receptors for the binding of TNF, have been detected at high levels in infectious diseases including human immunodeficiency virus and HBV infection. In order to investigate the activation of the TNF system in HCV infection, we have analyzed the balance between TNF and sTNF-R in 60 HCV-infected subjects according to their clinical, biological, virological and histological characteristics.
Methods: Serum TNF, sTNF-R55 and sTNF-R75 levels were determined by ELISA before any therapy and were compared to a control group of 60 healthy subjects and a group of 34 HBV-infected patients.
Results: Mean TNF levels were 50.5+/-4.5 pg/ml in HCV patients, and undetectable (<5 pg/ml) in the control subjects. sTNF-R55 and sTNF-R75 levels were significantly higher in HCV-infected patients than in the controls: 2.88+/-0.14 ng/ml vs. 1.30+/-0.05, (p = 0.0001), and 9.54+/-0.58 ng/ml vs. 4.19+/-016, (p = 0.0001), respectively. sTNF-R55 and TNF-alpha levels in HCV patients were not significantly different from levels in HBV patients. sTNF-R75 levels were slightly lower than in HBV patients (9.54+/-0.58 vs. 11.4+/-0.79 ng/ml, p = 0.03). In contrast to other infectious diseases, there was no correlation between levels of sTNF-R and TNF. sTNF-R75 but not TNF levels were correlated with aminotransferases levels (p = 0.0001 and p = 0.0015 for aspartate and alanine aminotransferase, respectively), while sTNF-R55 levels were significantly correlated only with aspartate aminotransferase levels (p = 0.003). sTNF-R75 levels were significantly correlated with the Metavir activity index (p = 0.01), and sTNF-R55 and sTNF-R75 levels were significantly higher in patients with vs. without cirrhosis (3.22+/-0.21 vs. 2.54+/-0.17 ng/ml (p<0.02) and 11.6+/-0.86 vs. 7.5+/-0.53 ng/ml (p<0.001), respectively). sTNF-R55, sTNF-R75 and TNF levels were not correlated with viral load, genotype or response to interferon therapy.
Conclusions: Levels of soluble TNF receptors, and particularly sTNF-R75, are significantly correlated with the severity of the disease but not with virological parameters such as quantitative viremia and genotype. High TNF-R production could thus suggest that HCV-related liver disease involves immunological mechanisms, including activation of the TNF system.