Cytokines are powerful mediator and communication molecules capable of regulating a wide spectrum of biologic functions, including immune responses. Although the role of cytokines in the pathogenesis of human disease is not yet understood, assays for cytokines have become a common feature in research and clinical laboratories. However, numerous pitfalls accompany measurements of cytokine levels in body fluids and of cytokine synthesis or gene expression in tissue. Interpretation of results obtained in cytokine assays, especially those performed with pathologic specimens, is fraught with difficulties. While cytokine assays are clearly of value in monitoring patients treated with recombinant cytokines or receiving anticytokine therapy, the clinical significance of cytokine assays is not yet fully established. In this review, some of the complexities associated with cytokine monitoring are discussed. The crucial importance of understanding cytokine biology for meaningful assay interpretation is emphasized.
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