Muscular contractile failure in septic patients: role of the inducible nitric oxide synthase pathway

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2000 Dec;162(6):2308-15. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.162.6.2001097.


Skeletal muscle failure is a frequent manifestation of sepsis that affects prognosis and rehabilitation by impairing respiration and ambulation. Animal studies have shown that the inducible NO synthase (NOS2) is expressed in skeletal muscles during sepsis, likely affecting muscular function, by promoting the formation of the strong oxidant peroxynitrite. In contrast, whether human skeletal muscle expresses a functional NOS2 in similar conditions is unknown. We studied NOS2 expression (mRNA and protein) and activity and its role in contractile function in samples from rectus abdominis muscle obtained during surgical procedure in 16 septic patients and in 21 controls. Peroxynitrite formation was detected by immunohistochemical detection of nitrotyrosine residues. The main results of this study are as follows: (1) A significant increase in NOS2 mRNA, protein, and activity was found in muscles from septic patients, the expression of NOS2 protein positively correlating with sepsis severity. (2) Contractile force was significantly lower in septic than in control muscles. This phenomenon was not reverted by muscle incubation ex vivo with the NOS inhibitor L-NMMA, indicating that NO was not involved in force reduction at the time of biopsy. (3) NOS2 expression in skeletal myocytes was strongly co-localized with nitrotyrosine, revealing muscular peroxynitrite generation during the septic process, before the muscle was biopsied. Exposure of control muscles to an amount of peroxynitrite similar to that generated in septic muscles during the septic process resulted in a nonreversible reduction in force generation. These results suggest that NOS2 could be involved in the decreased muscular force of septic patients via the local generation of peroxynitrite.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Base Sequence
  • Biopsy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Nitrates / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / analysis
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Oxidants / analysis
  • Oxidants / biosynthesis
  • Rectus Abdominis / enzymology
  • Rectus Abdominis / pathology
  • Rectus Abdominis / physiopathology
  • Sepsis / enzymology
  • Sepsis / pathology
  • Sepsis / physiopathology*


  • Nitrates
  • Oxidants
  • peroxynitric acid
  • NOS2 protein, human
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II