High circulating CD39(+) regulatory T cells predict poor survival for sepsis patients

Int J Infect Dis. 2015 Jan;30:57-63. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2014.11.006. Epub 2014 Nov 13.


Background: Sepsis encompasses two phases, the 'hyper'-reactive phase and the 'hypo'-reactive phase. The initial inflammatory stage is quickly counterbalanced by an anti-inflammatory response, which compromises the immune system, leading to immune suppression. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of sepsis by inducing immunosuppression; however, the role of CD39(+) Tregs in the process of sepsis is uncertain. This study investigated the dynamic levels of CD39(+) Tregs and their phenotypic change in sepsis.

Methods: Fourteen patients with systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), 42 patients with sepsis, and 14 healthy controls were enrolled. Sequential blood samples were used to analyze the numbers of CD39(+) Tregs and their phenotypic changes. Survival at 28 days was used to evaluate the capacity of CD39(+) Treg levels to predict mortality in sepsis patients.

Results: Sepsis patients displayed a high percentage (3.13%, 1.46%, and 0.35%, respectively) and mean fluorescence intensity (MFI) (59.65, 29.7, and 24.3, respectively) of CD39(+) Tregs compared with SIRS patients and healthy subjects. High-level expression of CD39(+) Tregs was correlated with the severity of sepsis, which was reflected by the sepsis-related organ failure assessment score (r=0.322 and r=0.31, respectively). In addition, the expression of CD39(+) Tregs was associated with survival of sepsis patients (p<0.01). By receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis, the percentage and MFI of CD39(+) Tregs showed similar sensitivities and specificities to predict mortality (74.2% and 85.1%, and 73.9% and 84.1%, respectively). Using Kaplan-Meier curves to assess the impact of CD39(+) Tregs percentage and MFI on overall survival, we found that a high CD39(+) Tregs percentage (p<0.001; >4.1%) and MFI (p<0.001; >49.2) were significantly associated with mortality. Phenotypically, CD39(+) Tregs from sepsis patients showed high expression of CD38 and PD-1 (p<0.01 and p<0.01 respectively).

Conclusions: Increased expression of CD39(+) Tregs was associated with a poor prognosis for sepsis patients, which suggests that CD39(+) Treg levels could be used as a biomarker to predict the outcome of sepsis patients.

Keywords: CD39; Prognosis; Regulatory T cell; Sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigens, CD / analysis*
  • Apyrase / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sepsis / immunology
  • Sepsis / mortality*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome / immunology
  • Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome / mortality
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*


  • Antigens, CD
  • Apyrase
  • CD39 antigen