Spinal but not general anesthesia increases the ratio of T helper 1 to T helper 2 cell subsets in patients undergoing transurethral resection of the prostate

Anesth Analg. 1998 Dec;87(6):1421-5. doi: 10.1097/00000539-199812000-00041.


Surgical stress and anesthesia cause immunosuppression that may predispose patients to postoperative infections. T helper lymphocytes play a major role in the immune response by controlling cell-mediated and humoral immunity. The type of immune response generated is determined by the differentiation of precursor T helper cells into Th1 or Th2 cells. Each cell subset secretes a particular array of cytokines that further augment the differentiation into that subset. Th1 cells produce interferon gamma and are responsible for cell-mediated immunity. Th2 cells produce interleukin-4 and are more effective in inducing humoral immunity. Cytokine concentrations are altered during surgery and anesthesia, which may effect Th cell predominance and, therefore, subsequent immune responses. We determined Th1 to Th2 cell ratios in patients undergoing transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) using either spinal or general anesthesia. Mononuclear cells were isolated before anesthesia, immediately after surgery, and after 24 h from patients undergoing TURP, 10 under general anesthesia and 9 under spinal anesthesia. T helper cell subsets were quantified by using flow cytometry, and the ratio of Th1 to Th2 cells was calculated. Th1 to Th2 ratios in patients receiving spinal anesthesia increased over the three time points studied (P = 0.029) but did not change in patients who had general anesthesia (P = 0.11). At 24 h, Th1 to Th2 ratios were significantly higher in the spinal group than in patients who received general anesthesia (P = 0.0157). Total T helper cell numbers remained constant. These data suggest that, from an immunological viewpoint, spinal anesthesia, but not general anesthesia, benefits the patient by maintaining Th1 cell numbers, thereby promoting cellular immunity.

Implications: Spinal anesthesia may result in less immunosuppression after surgery. We found that the ratio of T helper 1 to T helper 2 cells was higher in patients undergoing prostate surgery by spinal rather than general anesthesia. Th1 cells promote protective immune responses that may result in fewer postoperative infections.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anesthesia, General*
  • Anesthesia, Spinal*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-4 / biosynthesis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prostatectomy*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / classification*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / metabolism


  • Interleukin-4
  • Interferon-gamma