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Infect Immun. 2004 Mar;72(3):1311-7.

Organ injury and cytokine release caused by peptidoglycan are dependent on the structural integrity of the glycan chain.

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Institute for Surgical Research, Rikshospitalet University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.


Several studies have implicated a role of peptidoglycan (PepG) as a pathogenicity factor in sepsis and organ injury, in part by initiating the release of inflammatory mediators. We wanted to elucidate the structural requirements of PepG to trigger inflammatory responses and organ injury. Injection of native PepG into anesthetized rats caused moderate but significant increases in the levels of alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, gamma-glutamyl transferase, and bilirubin (markers of hepatic injury and/or dysfunction) and creatinine and urea (markers of renal dysfunction) in serum, whereas PepG pretreated with muramidase to digest the glycan backbone failed to do this. In an ex vivo model of human blood, PepG containing different amino acids induced similar levels of the cytokines tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-8, and IL-10, as determined by plasma analyses (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). Hydrolysis of the Staphylococcus aureus cross-bridge with lysostaphin resulted in moderately reduced release of TNF-alpha, IL-6, IL-8, and IL-10, whereas muramidase digestion nearly abolished the ability to induce cytokine release and IL-6 mRNA accumulation in CD14(+) monocytes compared to intact PepG. However, additional experiments showed that muramidase-treated PepG synergized with lipopolysaccharide to induce TNF-alpha and IL-10 release in whole blood, despite its lack of inflammatory activity when administered alone. Based on these studies, we hypothesize that the structural integrity of the glycan chain of the PepG molecule is very important for the pathogenic effects of PepG. The amino acid composition of PepG, however, does not seem to be essential for the inflammatory properties of the molecule.

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