Cytokine elevations in critically ill infants with sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis

J Pediatr. 1994 Jan;124(1):105-11. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3476(94)70264-0.


We hypothesized that plasma levels of cytokines such as interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are elevated in critically ill infants with sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and that the magnitude of their elevation is correlated with mortality rate. We measured plasma levels of interleukin-6 and TNF in 62 newborn infants with suspected sepsis or NEC. Eighteen infants had bacterial sepsis, 9 had bacterial sepsis plus NEC, and 15 had NEC but negative culture results. Twenty comparably ill infants with negative results on culture of systemic specimens served as study control subjects. Interleukin-6 levels were five- to tenfold higher in infants with bacterial sepsis plus NEC at the onset of disease than in infants with bacterial sepsis alone, in infants with NEC but negative culture results, and in control infants (p < 0.01). These differences persisted throughout the 48-hour study period. Interleukin-6 levels were also significantly higher in nonsurvivors than in survivors (p < 0.001). In contrast, plasma TNF values were not consistently increased in any of the groups. We conclude that plasma interleukin-6 is a more reliable indicator of bacterial sepsis and NEC than plasma TNF and may identify infants who might benefit from immunotherapeutic strategies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Enterocolitis, Pseudomembranous / complications
  • Enterocolitis, Pseudomembranous / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / immunology*
  • Interleukin-6 / blood*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / analysis*


  • Interleukin-6
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha