Features of Postoperative Immune Suppression Are Reversible With Interferon Gamma and Independent of Interleukin-6 Pathways

Ann Surg. 2016 Aug;264(2):370-7. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000001484.


Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of interleukin (IL)-6 pathways in postoperative immune suppression and to assess the reversibility of this phenomenon.

Background: The postoperative period is characterized by increased IL-6 production and features of immune suppression. In vitro, IL-6 mediates anti-inflammatory effects through inhibition of interferon gamma (IFN-γ) pathways. The significance of the immunomodulatory effects of IL-6 in the clinical setting of postoperative immune suppression remains unclear.

Methods: Patients over 45 years old undergoing elective surgery, involving the gastrointestinal tract, were recruited. IL-6 levels were assayed using an enzyme linked immunosorbent assay preoperatively, and at 24 and 48 hours. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from healthy volunteers were cultured in perioperative serum and CD14Human Leukocyte Antigen-DR (HLA-DR) [monocyte HLA-DR (mHLA-DR)] geometric mean florescent intensity was measured in the presence and absence of IL-6 neutralizing antibody and recombinant IFN-γ.

Results: Of the 108 patients, 41 developed a postoperative infection. The IL-6 levels increased 19-fold from the preoperative sample to 24 hours postoperatively (P < 0.0001). Higher IL-6 levels at 24 (P = 0.0002) and 48 hours (P = 0.003) were associated with subsequent postoperative infectious complications. mHLA-DR mean florescent intensity fell when healthy peripheral blood mononuclear cells were cultured with postoperative serum compared with preoperative serum (P = 0.008). This decrease was prevented by the presence of IFN-γ in the culture media, but not by the presence of IL-6-neutralizing antibody.

Conclusions: IL-6 levels increase after a major surgery and are associated with an increased susceptibility to postoperative infections. Serum obtained from postoperative patients induces an immunosuppressive response, reflected in reduced mHLA-DR levels, mediated through IL-6 independent pathways and is reversible with IFN-γ. These data may have therapeutic implications for the prevention of infection in patients undergoing major surgery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Digestive System Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / physiology*
  • Interferon-gamma / blood*
  • Interleukin-6 / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications / blood*
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology


  • Interleukin-6
  • Interferon-gamma