The acute phase of sepsis is characterized by a strong inflammatory reaction. At later stages in some patients, immunoparalysis may be encountered, which is associated with a poor outcome. By transcriptional and metabolic profiling of human patients with sepsis, we found that a shift from oxidative phosphorylation to aerobic glycolysis was an important component of initial activation of host defense. Blocking metabolic pathways with metformin diminished cytokine production and increased mortality in systemic fungal infection in mice. In contrast, in leukocytes rendered tolerant by exposure to lipopolysaccharide or after isolation from patients with sepsis and immunoparalysis, a generalized metabolic defect at the level of both glycolysis and oxidative metabolism was apparent, which was restored after recovery of the patients. Finally, the immunometabolic defects in humans were partially restored by therapy with recombinant interferon-γ, which suggested that metabolic processes might represent a therapeutic target in sepsis.
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Supported by the European Research Council (ERC-StG-310372 to M.G.N.) and the Center for Translational Molecular Medicine (Molecular Diagnosis and Risk Stratification of Sepsis project; 04I-201).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Integrated supplementary information
In Heatmap representation of multiple-comparison adjusted significant glycolysis and mTOR signaling gene expression analysis of healthy human donor PBMC samples stimulated for 4 or 24 hours with (a, b) C. albicans, and (c) E. coli LPS.
Genome-wide blood gene expression analysis in healthy volunteer samples before and 4 hours after intravenous administration of E.coli LPS. (a) Volcano plot representation of gene expression alterations post-LPS (integrating log2 fold changes and multiple-comparison adjusted p-values). Red denotes over-expressed genes (log2 fold change ≥ 1); blue denotes under-expression (log2 fold change ≤ -1). Horizontal line depicts multiple comparison adjusted p=0.05. (b) Ingenuity canonical signaling pathway enrichment of over-expressed (red) and under-expressed (blue) genes showing over-expression of prototypical pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory pathways concomitant with under-expression of predominantly metabolic signaling pathways. Whole blood (c) and PBMCs (d) isolated before (pre-LPS) and 4 hours after in vivo LPS administration (post-LPS) were re-stimulated with RPMI medium or LPS. Supernatants were used to measure the abundance of TNFα and IL-6. *** p < 0.0001, ** p < 0.01.
(a, b) HIF1A, EPAS1 (HIF2A), NAMPT, PPARA, PPARG and HIF1AN expression in the human endotoxemia model (c) as well as E.coli and Candida sepsis (d). blue, under-expression; red, over-expression. (c) Diagrammatic representation of the mTOR signaling pathway with gene expression log2 fold changes overlaid (green = under-expressed). (d) Over-representation analysis of transcription factor binding site motifs showed the mTOR-dependent HIF1A transcription factor was predicted as highly active in both E.coli and Candida sepsis. (TF, transcription factor).
During the acute hyperinflammatory phase, immunometabolism is up-regulated by means of the Warburg effect (up-regulated glycolysis and down-regulated oxidative phosphorylation), while during the immune paralysis state all major metabolic pathways are down-regulated; metabolic paralysis.
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Cheng, SC., Scicluna, B., Arts, R. et al. Broad defects in the energy metabolism of leukocytes underlie immunoparalysis in sepsis. Nat Immunol 17, 406–413 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ni.3398
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