This study aimed to assess the role of oxygen free radicals in acute pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis was induced in rats by infusion of the CCK-analogue cerulein (5 micrograms/kg per hour) for 30 minutes, 3.5 hours, and 12 hours. After the infusion, serum enzymes and conjugated tissue dienes and malondialdehyde were measured and tissue samples were subjected to electron and light microscopy. Electron microscopy after 30 minutes showed moderate intracellular alterations. After 3.5 hours of cerulein infusion interstitial oedema and intravascular margination of granulocytes in the pancreatic gland were seen. After 12 hours histological evaluation showed pronounced zymogen degranulation, extensive tissue necrosis, and migration of granulocytes into the tissue. Amylase and lipase activities increased 15 and 35-fold respectively during this time. After 30 minutes of cerulein infusion conjugated dienes and malondialdehyde increased, they reached their peak after 3.5 hours and decreased to normal values after 12 hours. Treatment with superoxide dismutase (100,000 U/kg/hour) and catalase (400,000 U/kg/hour) either before or after the start of the cerulein infusion prevented lipid peroxidation and reduced zymogen degranulation and tissue necrosis. Tissue oedema and inflammatory response, however, were not affected in any of the treated rats. Oxygen free radicals are instrumental in the development of acute pancreatitis. Even after its onset, scavenger treatment reduced the tissue damage normally observed.
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