BACKGROUND: Increasing evidence points to a important role for inflammatory cytokines for the pathogenesis of Crohn's disease. AIM: To compare the secretion rate of tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) by morphologically normal and inflamed intestinal mucosa from patients with Crohn's disease. RESULTS: Organ cultures of intestinal biopsy specimens taken from areas of affected mucosa from patients with Crohn's disease spontaneously produced increased amounts of TNF-alpha, IL-1 beta, and IL-6 compared with controls but also biopsy specimens taken in macroscopically and microscopically unaffected areas in the same patients. Concentrations of IL-1 beta and IL-6 measured in the supernatant fluid of biopsy cultures were positively correlated with the degree of tissue involvement measured by both endoscopic and histological grading. By contrast, TNF-alpha concentrations were not correlated to endoscopic and histological grading. CONCLUSIONS: These consistently raised TNF-alpha, IL-1 beta and IL-6 secretions by normal appearing mucosa from patients with Crohn's disease provide evidence for a sustained immune stimulation in Crohn's disease even in the absence of patent inflammation. The results shed a new light on the role of inflammatory cytokines in the onset of intestinal tissue damage in Crohn's disease and suggest that the range of intestinal lesions in Crohn's disease may be wider than suspected on the basis of regular endoscopic and histological examinations.
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