Critical illness and sepsis are characterized by drastic changes in the systemic innate immune response, particularly involving monocytes. The exact monocyte activation profile during sepsis, however, has remained obscure. Therefore, we prospectively analyzed the gene expression profile of circulating CD14+ monocytes from healthy volunteers (n = 54) and intensive care unit (ICU) patients (n = 76), of which n = 36 had sepsis. RNA sequencing of selected samples revealed that monocytes from septic ICU patients display a peculiar activation pattern, which resembles characteristic functional stages of monocyte-derived macrophages and is distinct from controls or non-sepsis ICU patients. Focusing on 55 highly variable genes selected for further investigation, arachidonate 5-lipoxygenase-activating protein (ALOX5AP) was highly upregulated in monocytes of ICU patients and only normalized during 7 days in the ICU in non-sepsis patients. Strikingly, low monocytic guanine nucleotide exchange factor 10-like protein (ARHGEF10L) mRNA expression was associated with the disease severity and mortality of ICU patients. Collectively, our comprehensive analysis of circulating monocytes in critically ill patients revealed a distinct activation pattern, particularly in ICU patients with sepsis. The association with disease severity, the longitudinal recovery or lack thereof during the ICU stay, and the association with prognosis indicate the clinical relevance of monocytic gene expression profiles during sepsis.
Keywords: ICU; biomarker; innate immunity; monocytes; mortality; prognosis; sepsis.