Fecal lactoferrin is a sensitive and specific marker in identifying intestinal inflammation

Am J Gastroenterol. 2003 Jun;98(6):1309-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2003.07458.x.


Objective: Lactoferrin is a glycoprotein expressed by activated neutrophils. The aim of this study was to determine the sensitivity and specificity of fecal lactoferrin concentrations for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) versus healthy controls.

Methods: Fresh stool samples were collected from outpatients with ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn's disease (CD), or IBS. Clinical disease activity for IBD was assessed using a modified Harvey-Bradshaw Activity Index. Fecal lactoferrin concentrations were determined using a polyclonal antibody-based enzyme linked immunoassay. Mean fecal lactoferrin concentrations for each group and sensitivity and specificity of the assay were determined.

Results: One hundred-four CD patients, 80 UC patients, 31 IBS patients, and 56 healthy controls were recruited. The mean +/- SE fecal lactoferrin concentration (microg/g fecal weight) was 440 +/- 128 for CD patients, 1125 +/- 498 for UC patients, 1.27 +/- 0.29 for IBS patients, and 1.45 +/- 0.4 for healthy controls. Fecal lactoferrin was 90% specific for identifying inflammation in patients with active IBD. Elevated fecal lactoferrin was 100% specific in ruling out IBS.

Conclusions: Fecal lactoferrin is sensitive and specific for detecting inflammation in chronic IBD. This noninvasive test may prove useful in screening for inflammation in patients presenting with abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Child
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / metabolism*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Feces / chemistry*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / metabolism*
  • Lactoferrin / analysis
  • Lactoferrin / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Biomarkers
  • Lactoferrin