A novel model of common Toll-like receptor 4- and injury-induced transcriptional themes in human leukocytes

Crit Care. 2010;14(5):R177. doi: 10.1186/cc9283. Epub 2010 Oct 7.


Introduction: An endotoxin challenge, sepsis, and injury/trauma, trigger significant changes in human peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) gene expression. In this study, we have sought to test the hypothesis that the Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) induced transcription patterns elicited in humans exposed to in vivo endotoxin would parallel gene expression patterns observed in trauma patients with initial non-infectious injury. In addition, we sought to identify functional modules that are commonly affected by these two insults of differing magnitude and duration.

Methods: PBL were obtained from seven adult human subject experimental groups. The groups included a group of healthy, hospitalized volunteers (n = 15), that comprised four study groups of subjects challenged with intravenous endotoxin, without or with cortisol, and two serial samplings of trauma patients (n = 5). The PBL were analyzed for gene expression using a 8,793 probe microarray platform (Gene Chip® Focus, Affymetrix). The expression of a subset of genes was determined using qPCR.

Results: We describe sequential selection criteria of gene expression data that identifies 445 genes that are significantly differentially expressed (both P ≤ 0.05 and > 1.2 fold-change) in PBL derived from human subjects during the peak of systemic inflammatory responses induced by in vivo endotoxin, as well as in PBL obtained from trauma patients at 1 to 12 days after admission. We identified two functional modules that are commonly represented by this analysis. The first module includes more than 50 suppressed genes that encode ribosomal proteins or translation regulators. The second module includes up-regulated genes encoding key enzymes associated with glycolysis. Finally, we show that several circadian clock genes are also suppressed in PBL of surgical ICU patients.

Conclusions: We identified a group of > 400 genes that exhibit similar expression trends in PBL derived from either endotoxin-challenged subjects or trauma patients. The suppressed translational and circadian clock modules, and the upregulated glycolytic module, constitute a robust and long lasting PBL gene expression signature that may provide a tool for monitoring systemic inflammation and injury.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Injuries / genetics*
  • Brain Injuries / metabolism*
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Endotoxins / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation* / immunology
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Leukocytes / immunology
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / genetics
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic / immunology
  • Young Adult


  • Endotoxins
  • TLR4 protein, human
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4