An Unbalanced Inflammatory Cytokine Response Is Not Associated With Mortality Following Sepsis: A Prospective Cohort Study

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The prevailing theory of host response during sepsis states that an excessive production of pro-inflammatory mediators causes early deaths, whereas a predominantly anti-inflammatory response may lead to immunosuppression, secondary infection, and late deaths. We assessed inflammatory (im)balance by measuring pro-inflammatory interleukin-6 and anti-inflammatory interleukin-10 during three distinct time periods after sepsis, and assessed its association with mortality.


Prospective observational cohort.


Two tertiary mixed ICUs in The Netherlands.


Consecutive patients presenting with severe sepsis or septic shock from 2011 to 2013.



Measurements and Main Results:

We repeatedly measured plasma interleukin-6 and interleukin-10 concentrations using cytometric bead array. Poisson regression was used to analyze the relation between inflammatory markers measured on 1) ICU admission and day 4 mortality, 2) day 4 and day 28 mortality, and 3) ICU discharge and 1-year mortality. Secondary outcome was development of ICU-acquired infections. Among 708 patients, 86 (12%) died within 4 days, 140 (20%) died between days 4 and 28, and an additional 155 (22%) died before 1 year. Interleukin-6 and interleukin-10 levels were both independently associated with mortality, but the balance of this response as modelled by an interleukin-6 and interleukin-10 interaction term was not (relative risk, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.95–1.04 on admission; relative risk, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.98–1.06 on day 4; and relative risk, 1.12; 95% CI, 0.98–1.29 at ICU discharge). However, inflammatory imbalance on day 4 was associated with development of ICU-acquired infections (subdistribution hazard ratio, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.77–0.98).


Although both interleukin-6 and interleukin-10 productions are associated with death, the balance of these inflammatory mediators does not seem to impact either early, intermediate, or late mortality in patients presenting to the ICU with sepsis.

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