Loss of Coordinated Neutrophil Responses to the Human Fungal Pathogen, Candida albicans, in Patients With Cirrhosis

Hepatol Commun. 2021 Jan 5;5(3):502-515. doi: 10.1002/hep4.1645. eCollection 2021 Mar.


Neutrophils are the most abundant white blood cell in the body and are key participants in the defense against fungal infections. Fungal infections occur often in patients with cirrhosis and are associated with increased 30-day and 90-day mortality. Previous studies have shown that specific neutrophil functions are abnormal in patients with cirrhosis, although the extent of neutrophil dysfunction is not well understood. We tested the ability of neutrophils from 21 hospitalized patients with cirrhosis and 23 healthy control patients to kill Candida albicans, a common fungal pathogen in patients with cirrhosis. Using an assay, we also measured the ability of neutrophils to coordinate multicellular, synchronized control of C. albicans hyphae through a process known as swarming. We found that neutrophils from patients with cirrhosis have significantly decreased fungicidal capacity compared with healthy control neutrophils (53% vs. 74%, P < 0.0001) and diminished ability to control hyphal growth normalized as a ratio to healthy control (0.22 vs. 0.65, P < 0.0001). Moreover, serum from patients with cirrhosis decreases the ability of healthy control neutrophils to kill C. albicans (from 60% to 41%, P < 0.003). Circulating concentration of the inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor α, interleukin-6, and interleukin-8 were found to be significantly elevated in patients with cirrhosis compared to healthy controls. Following pretreatment with granulocyte-colony stimulating factor and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, neutrophil function was restored to almost that of healthy controls. Conclusion: Our data establish profound neutrophil dysfunction against, and altered swarming to, C. albicans in patients with cirrhosis. This dysfunction can be partially reversed with cytokine augmentation ex vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Candida albicans / immunology*
  • Candidiasis / immunology*
  • Candidiasis / microbiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyphae / immunology
  • Immunity / immunology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / blood
  • Liver Cirrhosis / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Neutrophils / microbiology*


  • Cytokines