Serum citrullinated histone H3 concentrations differentiate patients with septic verses non-septic shock and correlate with disease severity

Infection. 2021 Feb;49(1):83-93. doi: 10.1007/s15010-020-01528-y. Epub 2020 Sep 30.


Purpose: Microbial infection stimulates neutrophil/macrophage/monocyte extracellular trap formation, which leads to the release of citrullinated histone H3 (CitH3) catalyzed by peptidylarginine deiminase (PAD) 2 and 4. Understanding these molecular mechanisms in the pathogenesis of septic shock will be an important next step for developing novel diagnostic and treatment modalities. We sought to determine the expression of CitH3 in patients with septic shock, and to correlate CitH3 levels with PAD2/PAD4 and clinically relevant outcomes.

Methods: Levels of CitH3 were measured in serum samples of 160 critically ill patients with septic and non-septic shock, and healthy volunteers. Analyses of clinical and laboratory characteristics of patients were conducted.

Results: Levels of circulating CitH3 at enrollment were significantly increased in septic shock patients (n = 102) compared to patients hospitalized with non-infectious shock (NIC) (n = 32, p < 0.0001). The area under the curve (95% CI) for distinguishing septic shock from NIC using CitH3 was 0.76 (0.65-0.86). CitH3 was positively correlated with PAD2 and PAD4 concentrations and Sequential Organ Failure Assessment Scores [total score (r = 0.36, p < 0.0001)]. The serum levels of CitH3 at 24 h (p < 0.01) and 48 h (p < 0.05) were significantly higher in the septic patients that did not survive.

Conclusion: CitH3 is increased in patients with septic shock. Its serum concentrations correlate with disease severity and prognosis, which may yield vital insights into the pathophysiology of sepsis.

Keywords: Citrullinated histone H3; Diagnosis; Outcomes; Peptidylarginine deiminase; Sepsis.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Citrulline / metabolism*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Histones* / blood
  • Histones* / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Procalcitonin / blood
  • Protein-Arginine Deiminase Type 2 / blood
  • Protein-Arginine Deiminase Type 4 / blood
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Shock / blood
  • Shock / diagnosis*
  • Shock / epidemiology
  • Shock, Septic / blood
  • Shock, Septic / diagnosis*
  • Shock, Septic / epidemiology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Histones
  • Procalcitonin
  • Citrulline
  • PADI2 protein, human
  • PADI4 protein, human
  • Protein-Arginine Deiminase Type 2
  • Protein-Arginine Deiminase Type 4