Procalcitonin in sepsis and systemic inflammation: a harmful biomarker and a therapeutic target

Br J Pharmacol. 2010 Jan 1;159(2):253-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2009.00433.x. Epub 2009 Nov 27.


The worldwide yearly mortality from sepsis is substantial, greater than that of cancer of the lung and breast combined. Moreover, its incidence is increasing, and its response to therapy has not appreciably improved. In this condition, the secretion of procalcitonin (ProCT), the prohormone of calcitonin, is augmented greatly, attaining levels up to thousands of fold of normal. This hypersecretion emanates from multiple tissues throughout the body that are not traditionally viewed as being endocrine. The serum values of ProCT correlate with the severity of sepsis; they recede with its improvement and worsen with exacerbation. Accordingly, as highlighted in this review, serum ProCT has become useful as a biomarker to assist in the diagnosis of sepsis, as well as related infectious or inflammatory conditions. It is also a useful monitor of the clinical course and prognosis, and sensitive and specific assays have been developed for its measurement. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that the administration of ProCT to septic animals greatly increases mortality, and several toxic effects of ProCT have been elucidated by in vitro experimental studies. Antibodies have been developed that neutralize the harmful effects of ProCT, and their use markedly decreases the symptomatology and mortality of animals that harbour a highly virulent sepsis analogous to that occurring in humans. This therapy is facilitated by the long duration of serum ProCT elevation, which allows for a broad window of therapeutic opportunity. An experimental groundwork has been established that suggests a potential applicability of such therapy in septic humans.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Calcitonin / blood*
  • Calcitonin / immunology
  • Calcitonin / metabolism
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Protein Precursors / blood*
  • Protein Precursors / immunology
  • Protein Precursors / metabolism
  • Sepsis / blood
  • Sepsis / diagnosis
  • Sepsis / therapy
  • Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome / blood*
  • Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome / therapy


  • Biomarkers
  • CALCA protein, human
  • Protein Precursors
  • Calcitonin
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide