The changing immune system in sepsis: is individualized immuno-modulatory therapy the answer?

Virulence. 2014 Jan 1;5(1):45-56. doi: 10.4161/viru.26516. Epub 2013 Sep 25.


Sepsis remains the leading cause of death in most intensive care units. Advances in understanding the immune response to sepsis provide the opportunity to develop more effective therapies. The immune response in sepsis can be characterized by a cytokine-mediated hyper-inflammatory phase, which most patients survive, and a subsequent immune-suppressive phase. Patients fail to eradicate invading pathogens and are susceptible to opportunistic organisms in the hypo-inflammatory phase. Many mechanisms are responsible for sepsis-induced immuno-suppression, including apoptotic depletion of immune cells, increased T regulatory and myeloid-derived suppressor cells, and cellular exhaustion. Currently in clinical trial for sepsis are granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor and interferon gamma, immune-therapeutic agents that boost patient immunity. Immuno-adjuvants with promise in clinically relevant animal models of sepsis include anti-programmed cell death-1 and interleukin-7. The future of immune therapy in sepsis will necessitate identification of the immunologic phase using clinical and laboratory parameters as well as biomarkers of innate and adaptive immunity.

Keywords: adaptive immunity; cell exhaustion; immune suppression; immune therapy; sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Precision Medicine
  • Sepsis / immunology*
  • Sepsis / therapy*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Cytokines