1. Tumour necrosis factor is a proinflammatory macrophage-derived polypeptide cytokine. Its participation in disease processes has been usually inferred from data obtained from experiments in vitro or from measurements of its plasma circulating levels. To investigate its role in chronic ulcerative colitis, we have quantified in vivo the steady-state release of tumour necrosis factor into the colonic lumen.

2. We studied 19 patients with untreated active ulcerative colitis and seven patients with irritable bowel syndrome as controls. A group of seven patients with active ulcerative colitis were studied before and after 4 weeks on treatment with oral 5-aminosalicylic acid. By means of an intracolonic double-lumen perfusion tube, an isotonic solution was continuously infused 50 cm from the anal verge at a rate of 5 ml/min, and was recovered 30 cm distally by siphonage. Effluents were assayed for tumour necrosis factor by a specific e.l.i.s.a. and for prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4 by specific r.i.a.s.

3. The intracolonic release of tumour necrosis factor was undetectable in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, whereas measurable release occurred in 15 out of 19 patients with active ulcerative colitis (P < 0.01). Prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4 release were also increased in active ulcerative colitis by comparison with irritable bowel syndrome (P < 0.01). Five out of seven patients with colitis improved with 5-aminosalicylic acid treatment, and tumour necrosis factor release became undetectable or decreased markedly (P < 0.05 compared with before treatment). However, tumour necrosis factor release remained high in the non-responder patients.

4. These findings indicate that intracolonic immunoreactive tumour necrosis factor release is enhanced in active chronic ulcerative colitis, becoming undetectable when mucosal lesions are healed. These results suggest that the luminal release of tumour necrosis factor may serve as an objective index of inflammatory activity in patients with chronic ulcerative colitis.

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