Background: A link between alcohol abuse and bacterial pneumonia has been recognized for centuries, but mechanisms to explain this relationship are unclarified. Interleukin-17 (IL-17) is a lymphocyte-derived cytokine that is part of the inflammatory cytokine cascade. Previous studies from our laboratory indicated that IL-17 is released in lung tissue in a murine model of bacterial pneumonia caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae. The effects of alcohol consumption on pulmonary release of IL-17 are unknown.
Methods: Mice were maintained on 20% ethanol in drinking water or on a control diet without alcohol. After 2 weeks, alcohol and control mice were challenged with intratracheal K. pneumoniae. Mice were followed for survival after bacterial challenge, neutrophil recruitment was assayed as myeloperoxidase, and IL-17 was measured in lung lavage fluid by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. In additional experiments, splenocytes from control mice were incubated with ethanol in vitro, and release of IL-17 was measured in culture supernatants. Finally, control and alcohol mice received intrapulmonary gene transfer of E-1–deleted adenovirus containing the murine IL-17 gene. These mice were then challenged with K. pneumoniae and followed for survival and neutrophil recruitment.
Results: In these studies, we demonstrate that a 2-week history of ethanol consumption in mice suppresses release of IL-17 into lung tissue, decreases neutrophil recruitment, and increases mortality from experimental K. pneumonia. In vitro experiments confirm a direct suppressive effect of ethanol on the release of IL-17 from splenocytes. In vivo administration of the IL-17 gene in an adenoviral vector to alcohol-consuming mice results in release of IL-17 into lavage fluid and normalizes neutrophil recruitment and mortality after bacterial challenge.
Conclusions: The results of these experiments strongly implicate IL-17 as an important pathway for the immunosuppression associated with alcohol abuse and support gene therapeutic approaches to augment immune function in the alcoholic host or to treat infections associated with alcoholism.