Effects of ethyl alcohol on human peripheral lymphocytes

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1985 Jun;109(6):540-2.


Chronic alcoholics are more susceptible to infection and have increased incidences of certain types of carcinomas. One explanation for this may be suppressed immune responses secondary to ethyl alcohol consumption. This project was initiated to study the effect of ethyl alcohol on lymphocyte responses in vitro by monitoring tritiated thymidine uptake. Lymphocytes were incubated in the presence of phytohemagglutinin-P, concanavalin A, and pokeweed mitogen. The response of normal lymphocytes was noted after mitogen stimulation in the presence of ethyl alcohol in graded doses. Ethyl alcohol levels greater than or equal to 50 mg/dL suppressed tritiated thymidine uptake of normal lymphocytes for phytohemagglutinin-P and concanavalin A. Since ethyl alcohol exposure in concentrations consistent with blood levels that may be attained during routine ingestion significantly decreased lymphocyte blastogenesis, it is speculated that chronic ethyl alcohol ingestion may alter immune surveillance sufficiently to be responsible in part for the increased incidence of infection and/or neoplasms seen in alcoholic subjects.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / immunology
  • Concanavalin A / administration & dosage
  • Concanavalin A / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infections / etiology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects*
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Phytohemagglutinins / administration & dosage
  • Phytohemagglutinins / pharmacology
  • Pokeweed Mitogens / administration & dosage
  • Pokeweed Mitogens / pharmacology
  • Stimulation, Chemical
  • Thymidine / metabolism


  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Pokeweed Mitogens
  • phytohemagglutinin-P
  • Concanavalin A
  • Ethanol
  • Thymidine