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Crit Care. 2010;14(6):R214. doi: 10.1186/cc9337. Epub 2010 Nov 24.

Temporal increase of platelet mitochondrial respiration is negatively associated with clinical outcome in patients with sepsis.

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  • 1Mitochondrial Pathophysiology Unit, Laboratory for Experimental Brain Research, Department of Clinical Sciences, Lund University, Sölvegatan 17, SE-221 84, Lund, Sweden.



Mitochondrial dysfunction has been suggested as a contributing factor to the pathogenesis of sepsis-induced multiple organ failure. Also, restoration of mitochondrial function, known as mitochondrial biogenesis, has been implicated as a key factor for the recovery of organ function in patients with sepsis. Here we investigated temporal changes in platelet mitochondrial respiratory function in patients with sepsis during the first week after disease onset.


Platelets were isolated from blood samples taken from 18 patients with severe sepsis or septic shock within 48 hours of their admission to the intensive care unit. Subsequent samples were taken on Day 3 to 4 and Day 6 to 7. Eighteen healthy blood donors served as controls. Platelet mitochondrial function was analyzed by high-resolution respirometry. Endogenous respiration of viable, intact platelets suspended in their own plasma or phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) glucose was determined. Further, in order to investigate the role of different dehydrogenases and respiratory complexes as well as to evaluate maximal respiratory activity of the mitochondria, platelets were permeabilized and stimulated with complex-specific substrates and inhibitors.


Platelets suspended in their own septic plasma exhibited increased basal non-phosphorylating respiration (state 4) compared to controls and to platelets suspended in PBS glucose. In parallel, there was a substantial increase in respiratory capacity of the electron transfer system from Day 1 to 2 to Day 6 to 7 as well as compared to controls in both intact and permeabilized platelets oxidizing Complex I and/or II-linked substrates. No inhibition of respiratory complexes was detected in septic patients compared to controls. Non-survivors, at 90 days, had a more elevated respiratory capacity at Day 6 to 7 as compared to survivors. Cytochrome c increased over the time interval studied but no change in mitochondrial DNA was detected.


The results indicate the presence of a soluble plasma factor in the initial stage of sepsis inducing uncoupling of platelet mitochondria without inhibition of the electron transfer system. The mitochondrial uncoupling was paralleled by a gradual and substantial increase in respiratory capacity. This may reflect a compensatory response to severe sepsis or septic shock, that was most pronounced in non-survivors, likely correlating to the severity of the septic insult.

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