Background/aims: In this study, we have compared the profiles of peripheral blood lymphocyte (PBL) subsets and serum cytokine levels of healthy individuals with those of patients with unresectable liver metastases from colorectal carcinoma before starting regional chemoimmunotherapy. Since the therapeutic responses are limited only to a subset of patients, we hypothesize that the initial status of immunity and individual immune response to a tumor might be significant to the therapeutic outcome.
Methodology: Cellular and humoral immunological parameters were compared between 10 patients with colorectal cancer metastases to the liver responding and non-responding to regional intra-arterial chemo-immunotherapy, and 5 healty individuals. Analyses included a flow cytometric immunophenotyping of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (CD3, CD4, CD8, CD19, CD25, CD28, CD56, CD57, CD80 and HLA.DR), estimation of serum cytokine levels of interleukin-2 (IL-2), interleukin-4 (IL-4), interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), and other immunological parameters are soluble IL-2 receptor (sIL-2), carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), gastrointestinal cancer-associated antigen (CA 19-9), and C-reactive acute phase protein (CRP). A significantly lower proportion of CD8 lymphocytes and a trend for decreased CD19, CD28 and CD80 was detected among colorectal cancer patients before liver-directed chemotherapy compared to healthy controls.
Results: The cancer patients showed a significantly increased population of peripheral NK cells as detected by both CD56+ and CD57+ phenotypes. Elevated serum levels of CRP, IL-4 and TNF-alpha, sIL-2R, but not IL-2, were also demonstrated in cancer patients as compared to controls. Activated CD25+ lymphocytes correlated negatively with CD28+ lymphocytes (r = -0.68, p < 0.01) and less significantly with CD4+ lymphocytes (r = -0.56, p < 0.05). The CD8+ cytotoxic cell subset might be negatively influenced by serum IL-4 (r = -0.57, p < 0.05). Positive correlation was found between sIL-2R and CRP (r = -0.78, p < 0.01), and between sIL-2R and TNF-alpha (r = 0.64, p < 0.05) serum levels in patients with progressive disease during the course of therapy, the initial proportions of CD4+, CD19+ and CD28+ lymphocytes were significantly lower than those among responders. Among humoral parameters, only sIL-2R showed a marginal correlation with therapeutic response, being more elevated among non-responding patients. Pre-treatment serum levels of CEA and CA 19-9 showed correlation with neither therapeutic response nor with any of the cellular or humoral immunological parameters analyzed.
Conclusions: The results may serve as an initial guideline to open a discussion on the rationale of such a panel of tests, hopefully leading to standardized laboratory pre-selection and monitoring of patients treated with regional chemoimmunotherapy.