Functional analysis of monocyte subsets in surgical sepsis

J Trauma. 1998 May;44(5):743-8; discussion 748-9. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199805000-00001.


Background: Sepsis still remains a major cause of death after surgery. Impaired monocyte (Mphi) function and disruption of monocyte (Mphi/T-cell interaction were shown to be crucial for the development of septic complications in these patients. It was the objective of the study to assess more insights in Mphi behavior in surgical sepsis by means of analysis of Fc receptor- and human leukocyte antigen DR (HLA-DR) expression in Mphi subsets, and to evaluate the kinetics of these changes.

Methods: In a prospective study, 20 septic patients and 10 healthy control subjects were included. Peripheral Mphi were isolated on consecutive days after onset of sepsis, and FcR positive (FcR+) and negative (FcR-) subsets were separated by rosetting with antibody-coated human erythrocytes. Cell surface receptor expression and in vitro cytokine production were used to determine the clinical importance of these subsets.

Results: A significant monocytosis (3.5-fold; p < 0.01) and suppression of HLA-DR receptor expression (35%, p < 0.01) which correlate with sepsis severity and outcome could be demonstrated. There was a significant increase of FcR+ subsets in sepsis compared with control subjects (60% vs. 24%; p < 0.05). In vitro stimulation of Mphi subsets and peripheral blood mononuclear cells revealed suppressed interferon-gamma synthesis (p < 0.05 up to 0.01) from day 1 to day 5, elevated neopterin release (p < 0.05) on day 14 and increased synthesis rates of proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., interleukin-1beta); p < 0.05) predominantly in FcR+ subsets.

Conclusions: Sepsis results in a significant monocytosis and suppression of HLA-DR receptor expression, which are correlating with sepsis severity and outcome. A significant shift toward FcR+ Mphi subsets can be found. This subpopulation resembles the previously described "angry macrophage" that is characterized by high proinflammatory cytokine synthesis and suppressed antigen presentation and that contributes to a disruption of adequate Mphi/T-cell interaction, rendering the host anergic toward opportunistic infections. The extend of HLA-DR suppression and the shift toward FcR+ Mphi might characterize a high risk patient subpopulation, which could benefit from immunomodulatory strategies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • HLA-DR Antigens / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-1 / blood
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / cytology
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Monocytes / physiology
  • Postoperative Complications / classification
  • Postoperative Complications / immunology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Receptors, Fc / metabolism
  • Sepsis / immunology*
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • Interleukin-1
  • Receptors, Fc