Children with uncontrolled autoimmune chronic active hepatitis have increased numbers of activated T lymphocytes expressing interleukin 2 receptors (IL2R). A soluble form of IL2R has recently been described whose proposed role is to downregulate T cell activation by competing for interleukin 2. We investigated whether a deficiency of soluble IL2R could account for the high concentrations of IL2R positive T lymphocytes in autoimmune chronic active hepatitis. Soluble IL2R was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in the serum of 16 children with autoimmune chronic active hepatitis, eight with chronic liver disease due to hepatitis B virus infection, seven with Wilson's disease, nine with alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, and 15 healthy age matched controls. Soluble IL2R concentration was significantly higher in patients with autoimmune chronic active hepatitis than in healthy controls (mean (SEM) 475 (75) U/ml, 145 (8) U/ml respectively, p less than 0.01). Eleven patients who had active disease had significantly higher soluble IL2R concentrations (590 (89) U/ml) than the five cases with inactive disease (220 (36) U/ml, p less than 0.01). No difference was found between the controls and the patients with chronic liver disease due to hepatitis B infection, Wilson's disease, and alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency. Percentages and absolute numbers of surface IL2R positive T cells as detected by immunofluorescence were significantly higher in the patients with autoimmune chronic active hepatitis (11.8% (1); 274/microliters (31)) than in controls (0.2% (0.1); 5/microliters (2), p less than 0.001), the highest values being found in those with uncontrolled disease. A significantly positive correlation was observed between concentrations of soluble IL2R and the percentage of T cells expressing IL2 receptors (r=0.67, p<0.001). These results indicate that the high levels of IL2R positive T lymphocytes characteristic of autoimmune chronic active hepatitis are not due to a deficiency of soluble IL2 receptors.
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