Functional and numerical alterations induced by ethanol in the cellular immune system

Siraj I. Mufti, Rao Prabhala, Satoru Moriguchi, I. Glenn Sipes, Ronald R. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Ethanol was found to alter functioning and numbers of lymphoid cells of the cellular immune system in humans and rats. In in-vitro studies on human lymphocytes, a higher than 0.1% concentration of ethanol and acetaldehyde and acetic acid, the metabolites of ethanol, caused a decrease in the formation of E-rosettes. Methanol and propanol also resulted in a decrease in E-rosette formation. The natural killer (NK) cells varied in their ability to lyse tumor cells. In vitro, the NK-cell activity declined at higher than 0.2% concentration of ethanol. The NK activity in cells isolated from spleen and thymus of rats fed 1 g/dl or 7 g/dl ethanol did not differ significantly from the controls. Sprague Dawley rats fed 1 g/dl or 7 g/dl ethanol for 12 weeks had a significantly smaller thymus compared to the controls. Alveolar macrophages isolated from the rats exhibited impaired phagocytic activity. In agreement with other investigators, ethanol was found to result in a loss of T-cell population in the spleens of rats fed ethanol for 13 months. On the other hand, the T-helper cells and the proportion of T-helper to T-suppressor cells were found to increase in the splenocytes from these rats. This latter occurance, apparently, is to compensate for the general loss of T-cell population observed in the body that occurs with ethanol ingestion. It is hypothesized that immunosuppression and the transient imbalances in the components of the cellular immunity induced by ethanol lead to an increased risk of pathogenesis associated with alcohol consumption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-94
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes


  • Alveolar macrophages
  • Congeners
  • Ethanol
  • Lymphocyte subpopulations
  • Lymphocytes
  • Metabolites
  • Natural killer cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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