Monocyte Human Leukocyte Antigen—DR Transcriptional Downregulation by Cortisol during Septic Shock

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Monocyte deactivation has been identified as a major factor of immunosuppression in sepsis and is associated with a loss of surface human leukocyte antigen—DR (HLA-DR) expression on circulating monocytes. Using flow cytometry, quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, we investigated this phenomenon in septic patients. We confirmed the early loss of monocyte HLA-DR expression in all infected patients and demonstrated that this persistent lowered expression at Day 6 correlated with severity scores, secondary infection, and death. This phenomenon occurred at a transcriptional level via a decrease in the class II transactivator A (CIITA) transcription. Furthermore, these abnormalities correlated with the high cortisol levels observed in sepsis and not with those of other putative factors such as catecholamines or interleukin-10. Finally,in vitrostudies evidenced that glucocorticoids decrease HLA-DR expression at a transcriptional level via a decrease in CIITA mRNA levels, mainly by down modulating its isoforms I and III. We conclude that in human sepsis, the loss of HLA-DR expression on circulating monocytes is associated with a poor outcome. We suggest that the high endogenous cortisol level observed in septic shock may be a possible new factor involved in the loss of HLA-DR expression on monocytes via its effect on HLA-DR and CIITA transcription.

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