Immune suppression plays an important role in the pathogenesis of acute pancreatitis. Monocyte expression of HLA (human leucocyte antigen)-DR, a cellular marker of immune suppression, was determined in relation to the development of organ dysfunction in patients with acute pancreatitis. A total of 310 consecutive patients with acute pancreatitis, admitted to a university hospital within 72 h of pain onset, were studied; 194 (63%) had mild disease (group I), 87 (28%) had severe disease without organ dysfunction (group II), and 29 (9%) had severe disease with organ dysfunction (group III). HLA-DR expression, defined both as the proportion of monocytes that were HLA-DR-positive and as monocyte HLA-DR fluorescence intensity, was determined at admission, using whole-blood flow cytometry. Of the patients in group III, 13 (45%) developed organ dysfunction within 24 h of admission. The proportion of HLA-DR-positive monocytes and monocyte HLA-DR density were both related to the severity of pancreatitis (P<0.001 for linear trend). In predicting organ dysfunction, the sensitivity, specificity and positive-likelihood ratio for the proportion of HLA-DR-positive monocytes were 83% [95% CI (confidence interval) 64–94%], 72% (67–77%) and 3.0 respectively, and for monocyte HLA-DR density the respective values were 69% (49–85%), 84% (79–88%) and 4.3. In conclusion, monocyte HLA-DR expression predicts the development of organ dysfunction that occurs early in patients with acute pancreatitis.

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