The Glyoxalase System and Methylglyoxal-Derived Carbonyl Stress in Sepsis: Glycotoxic Aspects of Sepsis Pathophysiology

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Mar 17;18(3):657. doi: 10.3390/ijms18030657.


Sepsis remains one of the leading causes of death in intensive care units. Although sepsis is caused by a viral, fungal or bacterial infection, it is the dysregulated generalized host response that ultimately leads to severe dysfunction of multiple organs and death. The concomitant profound metabolic changes are characterized by hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and profound transformations of the intracellular energy supply in both peripheral and immune cells. A further hallmark of the early phases of sepsis is a massive formation of reactive oxygen (ROS; e.g., superoxide) as well as nitrogen (RNS; e.g., nitric oxide) species. Reactive carbonyl species (RCS) form a third crucial group of highly reactive metabolites, which until today have been not the focus of interest in sepsis. However, we previously showed in a prospective observational clinical trial that patients suffering from septic shock are characterized by significant methylglyoxal (MG)-derived carbonyl stress, with the glyoxalase system being downregulated in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. In this review, we give a detailed insight into the current state of research regarding the metabolic changes that entail an increased MG-production in septicemia. Thus, we point out the special role of the glyoxalase system in the context of sepsis.

Keywords: Warburg effect; glyoxalase; immunometabolism; metabolic stress; methylglyoxal; reactive carbonyl species; sepsis; septic shock.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Lactoylglutathione Lyase / metabolism*
  • Protein Carbonylation
  • Pyruvaldehyde / metabolism*
  • Pyruvaldehyde / toxicity
  • Sepsis / etiology
  • Sepsis / metabolism*
  • Stress, Physiological*


  • Pyruvaldehyde
  • Lactoylglutathione Lyase