The role of the liver in sepsis

Int Rev Immunol. Nov-Dec 2014;33(6):498-510. doi: 10.3109/08830185.2014.889129. Epub 2014 Mar 10.


Despite the progress made in the clinical management of sepsis, sepsis morbidity and mortality rates remain high. The inflammatory pathogenesis and organ injury leading to death from sepsis are not fully understood for vital organs, especially the liver. Only recently has the role of the liver in sepsis begun to be revealed. Pre-existing liver dysfunction is a risk factor for the progression of infection to sepsis. Liver dysfunction after sepsis is an independent risk factor for multiple organ dysfunction and sepsis-induced death. The liver works as a lymphoid organ in response to sepsis. Acting as a double-edged sword in sepsis, the liver-mediated immune response is responsible for clearing bacteria and toxins but also causes inflammation, immunosuppression, and organ damage. Attenuating liver injury and restoring liver function lowers morbidity and mortality rates in patients with sepsis. This review summarizes the central role of liver in the host immune response to sepsis and in clinical outcomes.

Keywords: bacterial clearance; immunosuppression; inflammation; liver failure; liver injury; sepsis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Liver / immunology*
  • Liver Diseases / epidemiology
  • Liver Diseases / immunology*
  • Multiple Organ Failure / epidemiology
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Risk
  • Sepsis / epidemiology
  • Sepsis / immunology*