Adrenocortical hormones in survivors and nonsurvivors of severe sepsis: Diverse time course of dehydroepiandrosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, and cortisol

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Abstract

Objective

Activation and suppression of immune responses are crucial events during sepsis. Based on substantial new data, a complex picture of differential immune-enhancing and immunosuppressive actions of adrenocortical steroids is emerging. The adrenal androgen dehydroepiandrosterone and its precursor, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, show a considerable decrease with increasing age and serve as functional antagonists to endogenous glucocorticoids. Therefore, we examined time-dependent changes in dehydroepiandrosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, cortisol, adrenocorticotropin, and inflammatory variables in surviving and nonsurviving patients with severe sepsis.

Design

Prospective observational study in consecutive patients.

Setting

Medical and interdisciplinary intensive care units in two university hospitals and one city hospital.

Patients

Thirty nonsurgical patients (25 men and 5 women) with severe sepsis (American College of Chest Physicians/Society of Critical Care Medicine criteria); 15 survivors (mean age, 54 ± 14 yrs; Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation III score, 59 ± 35) and 15 nonsurvivors (mean age, 63 ± 15 yrs; Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation III score, 67 ± 24) were included. Hormones were compared individually and between survivors/nonsurvivors by sequential blood drawings from early sepsis till time of recovery/death.

Interventions

None.

Measurements and Main Results

During early sepsis, cortisol (nmol/L) was not significantly higher in survivors than nonsurvivors (750 ± 121 vs. 454 ± 92, p < .08) and decreased in survivors (p < .01) during late sepsis. During early sepsis, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (percentage of age-matched normal levels) was higher in survivors than nonsurvivors (85 ± 19 vs. 22 ± 7, p < .01). Dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate decreased in survivors (p = .0001) but remained low in nonsurvivors during late sepsis. Dehydroepiandrosterone (percentage of age-matched normal levels) was not significantly elevated in survivors compared to nonsurvivors during early sepsis (282 ± 42 vs. 214 ± 63, p < .08). Dehydroepiandrosterone decreased in survivors (p < .01) but not in nonsurvivors during late sepsis. Linear regression for dehydroepiandrosterone levels showed a reconstitution of age dependence only in survivors during recovery. Adrenocorticotropin levels did not change. The dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate/cortisol ratio decreased significantly in both survivors and nonsurvivors, whereas dehydroepiandrosterone/cortisol ratio only decreased in survivors during course of sepsis.

Conclusions

During sepsis, adrenal androgens and glucocorticoids show a diverse time-dependent course in survivors and nonsurvivors.

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