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J Pathol. 2000 Feb;190(3):373-86.

Microcirculatory dysfunction in sepsis: a pathogenetic basis for therapy?

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Institute of Pathology, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Langenbeckstrasse 1, 55101 Mainz, Germany.


Sepsis is a frequent complication of multiple organ dysfunction syndrome and remains a major problem of intensive care medicine. It is also a common factor in the final cause of death in hospital populations. Clinical observations, assisted by invasive monitoring techniques as well as pathological-anatomical studies, clearly indicate that microcirculatory dysfunction lies at the centre of sepsis pathogenesis. Numerous animal models, from rodents to primates, many of which employ bacteria or their toxins, especially endotoxins, have helped to shed light on the pathomechanisms leading to this dysregulation in the peripheral circulation. Among these are activation of humoral and cellular inflammatory mediator systems, with special emphasis on neutrophil-endothelial interactions, affecting endothelial barrier function and vasoregulation and ultimately leading to severely perturbed oxygen transport and utilization. In vitro studies have provided more insight into the molecular mechanisms involved in this microcirculatory dysfunction, although much more attention must be directed towards microvascular endothelial cells and the role of heterogeneity of response in various vascular beds. These experimental data must in turn be validated by comparing with the human in situ situation, both clinical and morphological. This review aims at a critical appraisal of the clinical and experimental evidence for sepsis-induced dysregulation of the microcirculation and how knowledge of the underlying cellular and molecular pathology could be used to make therapy more rational and effective. To date, therapeutic approaches, such as anti-cytokine and anti-oxidant regimens, which have been highly successful in experimental models, have failed to demonstrate clinical efficacy. Newer approaches, such as targeting the coagulation system, nitric oxide synthesis or intracellular signal transduction, are also discussed. The necessity to focus on the role of anti-inflammatory mediators, as well as the pathogenetic significance of important molecular groups, such as the heat shock proteins, which until now have been given scant attention, will be stressed.

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