Immunotherapy for the adjunctive treatment of sepsis: from immunosuppression to immunostimulation. Time for a paradigm change?

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2013 Jun 15;187(12):1287-93. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201301-0036CP.


Sepsis is the leading cause of death in the intensive care unit and ranks in the top 10 causes of death in general worldwide. Proinflammatory mediators are related to symptoms observed early in patients with sepsis, such as fever and hemodynamic instability. However, in recent years it has become clear that most septic patients do not die from an overwhelming proinflammatory immune response but in an immunosuppressive state, which can last for days or even weeks, and that results in increased susceptibility to secondary (opportunistic) infections. Although infection control and supportive therapies will remain the cornerstone of treatment, especially in the early phase of sepsis, the identification of this so-called "immunoparalysis" is currently causing a paradigm shift in the adjunctive treatment of sepsis from therapies that suppress the immune system toward immunostimulation. In this Critical Care Perspective we give an overview of the pathophysiology of sepsis, with a focus on immunosuppressive mechanisms that play an important role in outcome. In addition, we present an appraisal of the recent advances in immunotherapy as an adjunctive treatment for sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immunization*
  • Immunosuppression Therapy*
  • Sepsis / drug therapy*
  • Sepsis / immunology
  • Sepsis / physiopathology
  • Shock, Septic / drug therapy
  • Shock, Septic / immunology