Bacterial infections are a common cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with cirrhosis, affecting about 30% of such patients either at admission or during their hospitalization, with an attendant risk of mortality that is twice that of individuals without cirrhosis1.
Two major mechanisms may account for the observed immune dysfunction in cirrhosis: 1. Compromise of the immune surveillance function of the liver itself through damage of the reticulo-endothelial system (RES) and reduced synthesis of innate immunity proteins and pattern recognition receptors (PRRs); and 2. Dysfunctions of circulating and intestinal population of immune cells2.
Damage to the RES in cirrhosis leads to portal-system shunting, loss/damage of Kupffer cells (specialized hepatic macrophages) and sinusoidal capillarization, all hindering blood-borne pathogen clearance. Cirrhosis is also associated with a defect in hepatic protein synthesis, including complement components, decreased PRRs and acute phase reactants (eg C-reactive protein), which may in turn lead to the impairment of the innate immunity and bacterial opsonization.
Cirrhosis can also cause reduction in the number and function of neutrophils (eg, decreased phagocytosis and chemotaxis), B, T, and NK lymphocytes, and decreased in bacterial phagocytosis by monocytes. In addition, damage to the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (eg Peyer’s patches and mesenteric lymph nodes) may facilitate bacterial translocation.
- Pieri G, Agarwal B, Burroughs AK. C-reactive protein and bacterial infections in cirrhosis. Ann Gastroenterol 2014;27:113-120. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3982625/pdf/AnnGastroenterol-27-113.pdf
- Albillos A, Lario M, Alvarez-Mon M. Cirrhosis-associated immune dysfunction: distinctive features and clinical relevance. J Hepatol 2014;61:1385-1396. http://www.journal-of-hepatology.eu/article/S0168-8278(14)00549-2/pdf