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cachectin

a naturally occurring protein that is produced in the human body by the phagocytic cells known as macrophages. (The latter can engulf and destroy bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances.) TNF is produced by macrophages when they encounter the poisonous substance in bacteria that is known as endotoxin. TNF seems to perform both helpful and harmful functions within the body. It helps cause the profound weight loss (cachexia) seen in some persons suffering from chronic bacterial and parasitic infections, as well as from cancer. TNF has been further implicated in the acute circulatory collapse and shock experienced by some persons who are suffering from acute bacterial infections. The release of TNF in response to the presence of endotoxins thus appears to be responsible for most of the manifestations of septic shock in humans. The survival benefits of a bodily protein with these negative physiological effects remains unclear. But TNF has also been found to play a much broader (and more positive) role in regulating inflammatory and immune responses throughout the body. It seems to help the body defend itself against malarial parasites, and laboratory research has shown it has the ability to destroy some types of cancer cells, though clinical tests of its anticancer properties have been disappointing.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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