Abnormalities in IgG subclass distribution were sought in serum samples and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from 15 patients with alcoholic liver disease to explain their increased susceptibility to bacterial respiratory infections. Serum IgG4 deficiency alone or in association with low IgG2 levels was revealed in approximately 30% of patients with alcoholic liver disease. This fact prompted us to further investigate the immunoglobulin concentrations in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, paying special attention to the distribution of IgA and IgG subclasses. IgA levels were found to be normal or slightly elevated. However, there were substantial defects in total IgG and IgG1 concentrations, often associated with reduced IgG2 and IgG4 levels, in approximately 70% of patients with alcoholic liver disease, which proved to be closely correlated with the number and type (pneumonia) of bacterial respiratory infections. A prospective study of intravenous immunoglobulin substitutive therapy involving two patients with recurrent pneumonia and very low serum IgG2 values demonstrated a reduction in the number of respiratory infectious episodes as well as an increase in both serum and, to a lesser extent, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid IgG1 and IgG2 levels. We identified immune defects that may represent an important pathogenetic mechanism that, when considered together with the alcohol-related suppression of alveolar macrophage and ciliary functions and the inhibition of leukocyte migration into the lungs, should help clarify the complex relationships between alcohol and immune defense.
(Arch Intern Med. 1992;152:99-104)