BACKGROUND : Severe acute pancreatitis (SAP) is characterised by two distinct clinical phases. Organ dysfunction and death is initially as a result of a systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS). Systemic sepsis from infected pancreatic necrosis characterises the second phase, the so called 'second hit' of acute pancreatitis (AP). An immune imbalance during the second hit is postulated to contribute to the formation of the septic complications that occur in these patients. The pro-inflammatory T-helper (Th) 17 pathway has been shown to be an initiator of early SIRS in AP, however to date its role has not been established in the second hit in AP. METHODS : Thirty-six patients with mild (n = 16), moderate (n = 10) and severe (n = 10) acute pancreatitis were enrolled. Peripheral blood samples were drawn on days 7, 9, 11 and 13 of illness for analysis of routine clinical markers as well as cytokine analysis. Flow cytometry and a IL-17A ELISA was performed to determine cytokine concentrations. RESULTS: There were no significant differences between days 7, 9, 11 and 13 for either the mild/moderate or SAP groups for IL-17A (CBA assay or ELISA), IFN-γ, TNF-α, IL-2 or IL-4. For each of the study days, the mean IL-6 and IL-10 concentrations were significantly higher in the SAP group compared to the mild/moderate group. WCC, CRP and PCT were all significantly higher in severe acute pancreatitis over the study days.
CONCLUSIONS : An immune imbalance exists in patients with SAP, however secreted IL-17A is not responsible for the second hit in AP.