Understanding the roles of cytokines and neutrophil activity and neutrophil apoptosis in the protective versus deleterious inflammatory response in pneumonia

Int J Infect Dis. 2013 Feb;17(2):e76-83. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2012.06.006. Epub 2012 Oct 12.


Inflammation is a double-edged sword in the outcome of pneumonia. On the one hand, an effective and timely inflammatory response is required to eliminate the invading respiratory pathogen. On the other, a toxic and prolonged inflammatory response may result in lung injury and poor outcomes, even in those receiving advanced medical care. This review focuses on recent understanding of the dynamics of the cytokine response, neutrophil activity, and responsiveness to cytokines and neutrophil lifespan as major elements of lung inflammation resulting in favorable or poor outcomes in lung infection primarily due to pneumococcus and influenza virus. Although some progress has been made in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of the pneumonia inflammation axis composed of cytokines modulating neutrophil activation and neutrophil apoptosis, important questions remain to be answered. The degree of neutrophil activation, generation of reactive oxygen species, and the release of granule antimicrobial peptides play a key role in microbial pathogen clearance; however, prolonged neutrophil activation may contribute to lung injury and poor outcomes in pneumonia. Molecular markers of the mechanisms regulating neutrophil survival and apoptosis may help in the identification of novel therapeutic targets to modulate inflammation by inducing timely neutrophil apoptosis. A major task is to identify the mechanisms of dysregulation in inflammation leading to toxic responses, thereby targeting a biomarker and enabling timely therapies to modulate inflammation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neutrophil Activation / physiology*
  • Neutrophils / pathology*
  • Pneumonia / immunology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species


  • Cytokines
  • Reactive Oxygen Species