Introduction: L-arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid that plays an important role in immune and vascular function in sepsis. Plasma concentrations of L-arginine are decreased after trauma or surgery but have been variably reported to be normal or decreased in patients with sepsis.
Methods: We searched MEDLINE and Embase from database inception until January 2010 for the MESH terms "arginine," "amino acids," and "sepsis" and reviewed all studies that reported plasma arginine concentrations in humans with sepsis. Studies were grouped according to the presence or absence of trauma and surgery. We performed a pooled quantitative analysis on the subset of studies that reported appropriate data.
Results: We identified 285 citations, of which 16 met inclusion criteria and 10 were included in the quantitative analysis. Plasma arginine concentration was lower in sepsis patients compared with concurrent or historical controls in three of four studies of surgical sepsis, one of four of sepsis after trauma, and all eight studies of predominantly medical sepsis. In the quantitative analysis, mean plasma L-arginine concentration was 33.9 μmol/L (95% confidence interval, 41.2-26.6) lower in sepsis patients than in concurrent nonseptic controls (p < .001), which is a relative decrease of 41%.
Conclusion: Plasma concentrations of plasma L-arginine are substantially decreased in patients with sepsis in the absence of trauma or surgery. There are not enough studies of sufficient quality to determine whether this is also the case for trauma-associated or surgery-associated sepsis.