Rationale: Despite advances in clinical management, there are currently no reliable diagnostic and therapeutic targets for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The inflammasome/caspase-1 pathway regulates the maturation and secretion of proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., IL-18). IL-18 is associated with injury in animal models of systemic inflammation.
Objectives: We sought to determine the contribution of the inflammasome pathway in experimental acute lung injury and human ARDS.
Methods: We performed comprehensive gene expression profiling on peripheral blood from patients with critical illness. Gene expression changes were assessed using real-time polymerase chain reaction, and IL-18 levels were measured in the plasma of the critically ill patients. Wild-type mice or mice genetically deficient in IL-18 or caspase-1 were mechanically ventilated using moderate tidal volume (12 ml/kg). Lung injury parameters were assessed in lung tissue, serum, and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid.
Measurements and main results: In mice, mechanical ventilation enhanced IL-18 levels in the lung, serum, and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid. IL-18-neutralizing antibody treatment, or genetic deletion of IL-18 or caspase-1, reduced lung injury in response to mechanical ventilation. In human patients with ARDS, inflammasome-related mRNA transcripts (CASP1, IL1B, and IL18) were increased in peripheral blood. In samples from four clinical centers, IL-18 was elevated in the plasma of patients with ARDS (sepsis or trauma-induced ARDS) and served as a novel biomarker of intensive care unit morbidity and mortality.
Conclusions: The inflammasome pathway and its downstream cytokines play critical roles in ARDS development.