Background: Sepsis is currently defined as a life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a deregulated host response to infection. There is increasing evidence that the endothelium plays a crucial and pathogenic role in sepsis. Profound alterations of the endothelium associated with sepsis include increased leucocytes adhesions, shift to a procoagulant state, vasodilatation, altered barrier function with more permeable capillaries and tissue edema. The vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) pathway is involved in the control of microvascular permeability and has been involved in the pathogenesis of conditions associated with endothelial barrier disruption such as sepsis. sFlt-1 is a soluble variant of the VEGF receptor (Fms-like tyrosine kinase-1, Flt-1 or VEGFR-1) able to down-regulate the effects of VEGF by decreasing its signaling. We investigated the possible involvement of sFlt-1 as biomarker of endothelial alteration during sepsis, organ dysfunction and death.
Methods: Serum levels of s-Flt1 were measured in 170 hospitalized patients (77 with sepsis, confirmed by positive blood culture), and in 18 healthy volunteers. The sequential organ failure assessment (SOFA) score was determined by using biochemical and clinical parameters. In a small number of patients (9 individuals), s-Flt1 concentration was evaluated after negativization of the blood culture.
Results: Serum level of s-Flt1 was significantly higher in septic patients than blood culture-negative patients (277.7 ± 52.7 and 133.4 ± 12.4 pg/mL, respectively, P = 0.0088), both groups of patients had significantly higher concentration of sFlt-1 than healthy individuals (78.9 ± 2.5 pg/mL). Among sepsis cases, 68% was caused by Gram-negative bacteria, 27% by Gram-positive bacteria and 8% by Candida species. Serum level of s-Flt1 showed a significant difference between Gram-negative (274.1 pg/mL) and Gram-positive (145.7 pg/mL) sepsis. SOFA score (evaluated in 20 patients with sFlt-1 >190 pg/mL) showed a positive trend of correlation with the increasing sFlt-1 level. After blood culture negativization, serum level of sFlt-1 decreased (37%).
Conclusion: Our findings confirm, in a larger population of patients with sepsis, recent evidences that sFlt-1 levels are higher in patients with complicated-sepsis that evolve to septic shock and suggest that sFlt-1 could be a useful biomarker for sepsis severity. An anti-VEGF effect mediated by sFlt-1 could be hypothesized as salvage compensatory mechanism activated in response to sepsis.
Keywords: Endothelium dysfunction; SOFA score; Sepsis; sFlt-1.