To clarify the correlation of cytokine level with the severity and prognosis of children with the hemophagocytic syndrome, we analyzed serum interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) levels in 26 children with either the virus-associated hemophagocytic syndrome (VAHS, n = 12) or malignant histiocytosis (MH, n = 14). When compared to healthy controls, 13 children had an elevated IL-1 (≥20 pg/ml) and 21 children had an elevated TNF (≥10 pg/ml) level at diagnosis. There was, however, no significant difference in the frequency of these high levels between the patients with VAHS and MH. Neither IL-1 nor TNF levels correlated with other clinical or laboratory findings in either VAHS or MH. Two of the 12 patients with VAHS died of an intracranial hemorrhage and 7 of the 14 patients with MH died despite chemotherapy. The MH patients who had a high TNF level (≥50 pg/ml) had a poorer prognosis than those with a low TNF level (<50 pg/ml; p<0.01). In MH patients, other parameters, such as coagulopathy and lactic dehydrogenase, ferritin and IL-1 levels, did not correlate with prognosis. In 3 patients (2 with VAHS and 1 with MH) analyzed periodically, the change in TNF level was closely associated with the clinical progression or regression of the diseases. Serum cytokine levels may thus be monitored not only for predicting the severity and prognosis of VAHS or MH but also for determining the indications for or timing of chemotherapy. Moreover, TNF may play an important role in the progression of VAHS and MH.
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