Patients with acute on chronic liver failure display "sepsis-like" immune paralysis

J Hepatol. 2005 Feb;42(2):195-201. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2004.10.019.


Background/aims: Cellular immune depression is linked to high mortality in sepsis, but has yet to be systematically analysed in liver cirrhosis. The aim of the present study was to directly compare functional immune parameters in patients with acute on chronic liver failure (ACLF), severe sepsis, and non-decompensated cirrhosis.

Methods: Patients with ACLF (n=27) were investigated at admission to a medical ICU. Patients with stable liver cirrhosis (n=24) and severe sepsis (n=31) served as control groups. In all subjects, serum levels of IL-6 and IL-10, ex vivo production of TNF-alpha in a whole blood assay, and monocyte surface HLA-DR expression were determined.

Results: In patients with ACLF or sepsis, ex vivo TNF-alpha production and HLA-DR expression were severely decreased compared to subjects with stable cirrhosis (both P<0.001). Contrary, IL-6 levels were highest in septic patients, followed by subjects with ACLF and cirrhotic patients (both P<0.05). Immune dysfunction in ACLF was independent of aetiology of liver cirrhosis and associated with high mortality.

Conclusions: Patients with ACLF and severe sepsis show a similar degree of cellular immune depression. The reduced cellular immune function in subjects with ACLF might contribute to the increased infectious morbidity of these patients and provide a rational basis for prevention strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • HLA-DR Antigens / blood*
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / blood
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / mortality
  • Humans
  • Liver Failure / immunology*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / immunology*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / mortality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paralysis / etiology*
  • Paralysis / immunology
  • Sepsis / immunology*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / analysis


  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha