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Fecal Lactoferrin Is a Sensitive and Specific Marker of Disease Activity in Children and Young Adults With Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Walker, Thomas R*,†,‡; Land, Michelle L; Kartashov, Alex; Saslowsky, Tracee M; Lyerly, David M§; Boone, James H§; Rufo, Paul A*,†,‡

Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition: April 2007 - Volume 44 - Issue 4 - p 414–422
doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e3180308d8e
Original Articles: Gastroenterology

Background and Aims: Fecal lactoferrin (FLA) is a neutrophil-derived surrogate marker of intestinal inflammation that is elevated in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. However, the correlation between FLA levels and serological markers of disease activity has not been previously reported, to our knowledge. In the present study we evaluated the ability of FLA levels to reflect disease activity in pediatric patients with inflammatory bowel disease. We further assessed the relationship between FLA levels and customary laboratory and clinical measures of inflammation.

Patients and Methods: Fecal specimens were collected from 148 consecutive pediatric patients (79 with Crohn disease, 62 with ulcerative colitis, and 7 with irritable bowel syndrome) and 22 healthy control individuals. Lactoferrin was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (IBD-SCAN, TECHLAB, Inc). Disease activity was assessed at the time of sample provision by laboratory measures (including erythrocyte sedimentation rate [ESR] and albumin) and previously validated disease activity indices (Pediatric Crohn Disease Activity Index, Kozarek, Harvey Bradshaw Activity Index).

Results: Lactoferrin levels were significantly higher in patients with ulcerative colitis (1880 ± 565 μg/mL) (mean ± SE) or Crohn disease (1701 ± 382 μg/mL) than in healthy control individuals under 21 years of age (1.17 ± 0.47 μg/mL, P < 0.001). Lactoferrin levels correlated significantly with ESR, hematocrit, albumin, and platelet count (P < 0.001). Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis revealed that FLA levels were comparable to ESR in detecting patients with clinically active disease (P < 0.001). Patients who experienced a clinical flare within 2 months of specimen collection displayed higher lactoferrin levels (845 ± 452 μg/mL) than did those who remained in clinical remission (190 ± 90 μg/mL, P = 0.003).

Conclusions: Data presented here demonstrate that FLA is a sensitive and specific biochemical marker of inflammation for use in the diagnosis and interval assessment of pediatric patients with IBD, and its level correlates well with both clinical disease activity indices and ESR. Elevated levels of FLA may also identify patients at greater risk for the development of subsequent clinical flares.

*Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Combined Program in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition

Clinical Research Center, Children's Hospital

Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

§TECHLAB Incorporated, Blacksburg, VA

Received 8 March, 2006

Accepted 1 December, 2006

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Paul A. Rufo (e-mail:

Supported by a restricted grant from TECHLAB, Inc (MLL), Clinical Investigator Awards K23 DK02729 (P.A.R.), and T32 DK07477 (T.R.W), and a Career Development Award from the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation (T.R.W.). Dr. Rufo was a Pfizer Fellow in the Clinical Investigator Training Program of the Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Division of Health Sciences and Technology and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.