Objective: To determine whether plasma tumor necrosis factor- (TNF-), interleukin-1 (IL-1 ), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and lipopolysaccharide are detectable in patients when they first present with the sepsis syndrome and to determine whether levels correlate with patient survival.
Design: Prospective study comparing patients with the sepsis syndrome, critically ill patients without sepsis, and normal healthy volunteers.
Setting: Tertiary care hospital affiliated with a medical school.
Patients: The study included 97 consecutive patients on a medical service who met the criteria for the sepsis syndrome; 20 critically ill patients without sepsis who were in the medical intensive care unit; and 20 healthy volunteers who served as comparison groups.
Measurements: Plasma tumor necrosis factor-, IL-1 , interleukin-6, and endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide) levels were measured when a patient was first identified as having the sepsis syndrome. Survival was defined as being alive 30 days after the sepsis syndrome was diagnosed.
Results: Fifty-four percent of patients with the sepsis syndrome had detectable levels of TNF- (median, 26 pg/mL; range, nondetectable to 1000 pg/mL); 37% had detectable levels of IL-1 (median, 20 pg/mL; range, nondetectable to 2850 pg/mL); 80% had detectable levels of IL-6 (median, 415 pg/mL; range, nondetectable to 2380 pg/mL); and 89% had detectable levels of lipopolysaccharide (median, 2.6; range, nondetectable to 12.5 endotoxin units [EU]/mL). In all cases, levels were higher than those in critically ill patients without sepsis and normal healthy controls (P < 0.001 for all comparisons). Plasma levels of TNF-, IL-1 , IL-6, and lipopolysaccharide were detectable in patients regardless of culture status. The IL-6 level was 69% (95% CI, 30% to 108%) higher in patients who died compared with those who survived. The scores for the individual levels of TNF-, IL-1 , IL-6, and lipopolysaccharide were summed to arrive at a total lipopolysaccharide-cytokine score, and mortality increased with lipopolysaccharide-cytokine score (P < 0.001).
Conclusions: Patients with the sepsis syndrome have detectable levels of circulating TNF-, IL-1, IL-6, and lipopolysaccharide independent of culture-documented infection. Lipopolysaccharide and cytokines may play a pathogenic role in sepsis, and the combination of several elevated factors may be important in determining patient survival.