Increased release of sMD-2 during human endotoxemia and sepsis: A role for endothelial cells

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MD-2 is the crucial cofactor of TLR4 in the detection of LPS. Here, we show that soluble MD-2 (sMD-2) circulates in plasma of healthy individuals as a polymeric protein. The total amount of sMD-2 in septic plasma was strongly elevated and contained both sMD-2 polymers and monomers, the latter representing the putative biologically active form of MD-2. Moreover, during experimental human endotoxemia, the monomeric and total sMD-2 content in plasma increased with the kinetics of an acute phase protein. The increase in sMD-2 monomers was paralleled by enhanced TLR4 costimulatory activity. The presence of functional sMD-2 during endotoxemia and sepsis was confirmed by immunodepletion. Immunohistochemistry revealed that MD-2 expression in septic patients was strongly enhanced on endothelium and multiple inflammatory cells in lung and liver. In vitro studies showed that sMD-2 release appears to be restricted to endothelial cells and dendritic cells. Release of sMD-2 by endothelial cells was strongly enhanced by LPS and TNF-α stimulation. Taken together, this study demonstrates the increase of both circulating polymeric and functional monomeric sMD-2 during endotoxemia and sepsis, and evidence is provided that the endothelium is involved in this process.

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