Although a wealth of evidence has suggested that cell-mediated immunity is suppressed after simple surgical trauma, there have been contradictory results using stimulation assays of lymphocyte function. We quantitated T-lymphocyte subsets in 11 patients undergoing routine cholecystectomy by immunofluorescence microscopy using specific monoclonal antibodies. T-helper to T-suppressor cell ratios were calculated on the preoperative day and the first postoperative day in all patients, and on the third or fourth postoperative day in five patients. Helper to suppressor ratios decreased in all patients on the first postoperative day (p > 0.01), but returned to within normal limits on subsequent days. Changes were due more to decreases in helper cells than to increases in suppressor cells, although changes in both populations were statistically significant. The measurement of T-cell subsets by antibodyspecific labeling and immunofluorescence microscopy may prove to be a more sensitive, quantifiable, and reproducible assay of immune function in surgical or traumatized patients than use of stimulation assays. Measurements of specific helper and suppressor lymphocyte populations may prove useful in predicting morbidity and mortality, and may also help in studying the effect of immunomodulating agents on the immune response.
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