Neopterin is produced by macrophages after stimulation with interferon gamma or lipopolysaccharide. Its production is increased in many infectious, autoimmune, and malignant diseases. The aim of this study was to examine whether, on the basis of neopterin as a marker, liver diseases could be classified according to aetiology and stage of disease. A cohort of 264 patients with chronic liver diseases (viral, metabolic, autoimmune, toxic) and 150 normal controls were studied; 136 of the patients had cirrhosis. Increased serum neopterin concentrations were found in 41% of all patients (controls 6.0 (2.2) nmol/l), with patients in the cirrhotic stage of disease showing higher neopterin values (mean (SD) 15.7 (23.6) nmol/ml) than those in the non-cirrhotic stage (9.9 (5.5)). There were no statistically significant differences in the serum neopterin concentrations that could be considered characteristic for different stages of disease classified according to the Child criteria. Such differences in concentrations of neopterin that were found in patients with liver diseases grouped according to underlying causes were only marginal. Serum neopterin concentrations were found to be significantly lower than in any other disease group only in patients with Wilson's disease. The results suggest that activated macrophages participate in the development of chronic liver disease. Measurement of serum neopterin does not offer a reliable method for differentiating between various aetiologies of chronic liver diseases and does not help to predict severity of cirrhosis.
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