Tumor necrosis factor and cachexia: a current perspective

Surg Oncol. 1994 Oct;3(5):255-62. doi: 10.1016/0960-7404(94)90027-2.


Anorexia, net proteolysis of skeletal muscle and consumption of body fat are hallmarks of the cachexia syndrome associated with chronic disease states. While inanition contributes to cachexia, this wasting diathesis has little in common with simple starvation. The cachexia syndrome is characterized by progressive weight loss and depletion of lean body mass in excess to that resulting from comparable caloric restriction. Accelerated mobilization and consumption of host protein stores from peripheral tissues occurs to support gluconeogenesis and acute phase protein synthesis [1, 2]. In contrast, simple starvation is associated with a relative sparing of lean tissue with the preferential consumption of fat. While the clinical manifestations of cachexia are readily apparent, identification of the specific mechanisms responsible for the development of cachexia remains an enigma. In recent years, interest has focused on the role that the immune system plays in the development of cachexia. Investigators initially hypothesized that the chronic production of two inflammatory cytokines, tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and/or interleukin-1 (IL-1), could explain the host non-specific responses resulting in cachexia [3-5]. Other pro-inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin-6 (IL-6) [6, 7] and interferon-gamma [8, 9], have been more recently proposed to be involved in this complex process. Although no consensus exists for the exclusive role of any one cytokine in the pathogenesis of cachexia, there is growing acceptance that the progression of cachexia results in part from the inappropriate release of one or more pro-inflammatory cytokines [10, 11]. In the present review, the current role of TNF alpha as a mediator of cachexia is examined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cachexia / physiopathology*
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Humans
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / physiology*


  • Cytokines
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha