Procalcitonin Impairs Endothelial Cell Function and Viability

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Procalcitonin is used as a diagnostic tool for the identification and risk stratification of septic patients. Procalcitonin plasma concentrations tightly correlate with the severity of the ongoing inflammatory reaction and can rise up to 10,000-fold. Impairment of endothelial cell function plays an important role in the pathogenesis of hypotension and disturbed organ perfusion during sepsis. We investigated the possible effects of procalcitonin itself on endothelial cell function and viability.


Human endothelial cells were exposed to 0.01 to 100 ng/mL procalcitonin and investigated for endothelial permeability using transwells, migration in a scratch wound assay and new capillary formation on extracellular matrix in vitro. Tumor necrosis factor-α and vascular endothelial growth factor served as positive controls. Procalcitonin’s impact on the response of endothelial cells toward ischemia was investigated in vivo in the murine model of unilateral femoral artery ligation. Procalcitonin-exposed endothelial cells were subjected to immunoblot for the investigation of vascular endothelial-cadherin expression and angiogenic signaling pathways. Flow cytometry was used for the detection of inflammatory activation and viability, and genomic analysis was performed. Data are presented as difference in means and 95% confidence intervals; statistical analyses were performed using analysis of variance/Bonferroni, and P values are reported as adjusted for multiple comparisons (Padjust).


Tumor necrosis factor-α and 0.1 ng/mL procalcitonin induced endothelial barrier disruption after incubation of endothelial monolayers for 6 hours (−2.53 [−4.16 to −0.89], P = .0008 and −2.09 [−3.73 to −0.45], Padjust = .0064 compared with vehicle-treated control, respectively). Procalcitonin beginning at concentrations of 0.02 ng/mL reduced endothelial cell migration (0.26 [0.06 to 0.47], Padjust = .0069) and new capillary formation in vitro (0.47 [0.28 to 0.66], Padjust < .0001) contrasting the proangiogenic action of vascular endothelial growth factor. Left ventricular injection of procalcitonin in mice on postoperative day 1, 3, and 5 after induction of ischemia impaired new capillary formation and recovery of hindlimb perfusion in vivo (number of capillaries/mm2 in the ischemic leg of vehicle-treated versus procalcitonin-treated mice, 852.6 [383.4–1322], Padjust = .0002). Twenty-four-hour incubation with procalcitonin reduced the expression of vascular endothelial-cadherin at 100 ng/mL (0.39 [0.06–0.71], Padjust = .0167) and induced endothelial cell death (apoptosis, −5.4 [−10.67 to −0.13], Padjust = .0431). No alteration in the expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1, vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 or extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2, and AKT signaling pathways was observed. Genomic analysis revealed regulation of a variety of genes involved in inflammation, angiogenesis, and cell growth.


This study found that procalcitonin itself impaired several aspects of endothelial cell function. Procalcitonin-induced loss of endothelial barrier function may contribute to capillary leakage and therapy-refractory hypotension during sepsis. Anti-angiogenic properties of procalcitonin at low concentrations could also identify procalcitonin as a mediator of vascular disease associated with the metabolic syndrome. Future studies are needed to further test procalcitonin as a potential therapeutic target for preserving vascular dysfunction during acute and chronic inflammatory disorders.

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