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J Trauma. 2002 Aug;53(2):276-82; discussion 282-3.

Mechanism of immune dysfunction in sepsis: inducible nitric oxide-meditated alterations in p38 MAPK activation.

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  • 1Division of Surgical Research, Department of Surgery, Brown University School of Medicine, and Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island 02903, USA.



After the onset of sepsis, there is a marked dysfunction in cell-mediated immunity that contributes to the morbidity and mortality seen in this condition. Although both nitric oxide (NO) from inducible NO synthase (iNOS) and the activation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38 MAPK) appear to contribute to this immune dysfunction, the extent to which NO regulates p38 MAPK activity in sepsis remains unknown.


To examine this, we induced sepsis by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP) in iNOS knockout (iNOS -/-) or C57BL/6 control mice. Twenty-four hours after CLP or sham operation, splenic T cells and macrophages were isolated and then stimulated with monoclonal antibody against the T-cell marker CD3 (anti-CD3) or lipopolysaccharide. At 4 or 24 hours after stimulation, cytokine release was determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and p38 MAPK phosphorylation (activation) was determined by immunoblotting with antibody specific to phosphorylated p38 MAPK.


Splenic T-cell p38 MAPK activation and interleukin (IL)-10 release was increased by CLP, whereas Th1 cytokine (IL-2, interferon-gamma) release was depressed. iNOS gene deficiency inhibited p38 MAPK activation in splenic T cells taken from septic mice, and also suppressed IL-10 release in both sham and septic mice. Interestingly, although deficiency of iNOS restored IL-2 release after CLP, both sham and CLP T cells remained depressed in their ability to release interferon-gamma. Septic insult markedly suppressed C57BL/6 splenic macrophage release of proinflammatory agents tumor necrosis factor, IL-12, and IL-1, while augmenting the release of IL-10. However, although deficiency of iNOS concomitantly restored the ability to produce tumor necrosis factor while suppressing the rise in IL-10 release and p38 MAPK activation, it only partially restored IL-1 release and had no effect on IL-12 production seen after CLP.


These data suggest that NO release from iNOS regulates aspects of sepsis-induced immune dysfunction by the activation of p38 MAPK.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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