Soluble adhesion molecules as markers for sepsis and the potential pathophysiological discrepancy in neonates, children and adults

Crit Care. 2014 Feb 18;18(2):204. doi: 10.1186/cc13733.


Sepsis is a severe and life-threatening systemic inflammatory response to infection that affects all populations and age groups. The pathophysiology of sepsis is associated with aberrant interaction between leukocytes and the vascular endothelium. As inflammation progresses, the adhesion molecules that mediate these interactions become shed from cell surfaces and accumulate in the blood as soluble isoforms that are being explored as potential prognostic disease biomarkers. We critically review the studies that have tested the predictive value of soluble adhesion molecules in sepsis pathophysiology with emphasis on age, as well as the underlying mechanisms and potential roles for inflammatory shedding. Five soluble adhesion molecules are associated with sepsis, specifically, E-selectin, L-selectin and P-selectin, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1. While increased levels of these soluble adhesion molecules generally correlate well with the presence of sepsis, their degree of elevation is still poorly predictive of sepsis severity scores, outcome and mortality. Separate analyses of neonates, children and adults demonstrate significant age-dependent discrepancies in both basal and septic levels of circulating soluble adhesion molecules. Additionally, a range of both clinical and experimental studies suggests protective roles for adhesion molecule shedding that raise important questions about whether these should positively or negatively correlate with mortality. In conclusion, while predictive properties of soluble adhesion molecules have been researched intensively, their levels are still poorly predictive of sepsis outcome and mortality. We propose two novel directions for improving clinical utility of soluble adhesion molecules: the combined simultaneous analysis of levels of adhesion molecules and their sheddases; and taking age-related discrepancies into account. Further attention to these issues may provide better understanding of sepsis pathophysiology and increase the usefulness of soluble adhesion molecules as diagnostic and predictive biomarkers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / blood*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Sepsis / blood*
  • Sepsis / diagnosis
  • Sepsis / physiopathology*
  • Solubility


  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules