Sepsis is a complex systemic inflammatory syndrome, the most common cause of which is attributed to systemic underlying bacterial infection. The complete mechanisms of the dynamic pro- and anti-inflammatory processes underlying the pathophysiology of sepsis remain poorly understood. Natural killer (NK) cells play a crucial role in the pathophysiology of sepsis, leading to exaggerated inflammation due their rapid response and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interferon gamma (IFN-γ). Several studies have already shown that NK cells undergo lymphopenia in the peripheral blood of patients with sepsis. However, our understanding of the mechanisms behind its cellular trafficking and its role in disease development is restricted to studies in animal models. In this study, we aimed to compare the human NK cell subset (CD56bright or dim) levels in the peripheral blood and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid of sepsis patients. We conducted a case-control study with a sample size consisting of 10 control patients and 23 sepsis patients enrolled at the Hospital Cajuru (Curitiba/PR, Brazil) from 2013 to 2015. Although we were able to confirm previous observations of peripheral blood lymphopenia, no significant differences were detected in NK cell levels in the BAL fluid of these patients. Overall, these findings strengthened the evidence that peripheral blood lymphopenia is likely to be associated with cell death as a consequence of sepsis.
Keywords: bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL); lung sepsis; lymphopenia; natural killer (NK) cells.