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Infect Immun. 1992 Jul;60(7):2641-7.

In vivo effects of the antiglucocorticoid RU 486 on glucocorticoid and cytokine responses to Escherichia coli endotoxin.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical College, New York 10021.


The endogenous adrenocortical response to sepsis is critical for host survival. The in vivo interactions among the endogenous glucocorticoid response, the induction of cytokines, and host survival during endotoxemia were explored in this study by use of the glucocorticoid receptor antagonist RU 486. Male Lewis rats underwent sterile insertion of a right jugular venous catheter. After a 72-h recovery period, animals received a 50% lethal dose of Escherichia coli endotoxin (2.5 mg/kg) via the catheter after pretreatment for 30 min prior to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) treatment with (i) vehicle alone intravenously (i.v.) (-corticosterone [-Cort]/-RU 486/+LPS) (n = 10), (ii) the antiglucocorticoid RU 486 (10 mg/kg) i.v. (-Cort/+RU 486/+LPS) (n = 11), or (iii) RU 486 (10 mg/kg) i.v. in animals that had undergone subcutaneous implantation of a corticosterone pellet at the time of catheter insertion (+Cort/+RU 486/+LPS) (n = 10). Except in animals receiving corticosterone pretreatment, baseline plasma corticosterone levels were low in all groups. Plasma corticosterone levels increased significantly (P less than 0.001) above the baseline following LPS administration. Animals in the -Cort/+RU 486/+LPS-treated group exhibited significantly increased mortality (P less than 0.001), with only 9% of the animals surviving at 72 h, as well as significantly increased plasma interleukin-6 levels, compared with animals receiving the vehicle alone (-Cort/-RU 486/+LPS), which showed 50% mortality. Pretreatment with corticosterone and RU 486 (+Cort/+RU 486/+LPS) significantly (P less than 0.001) reversed the mortality observed with RU 486 pretreatment alone (-Cort/+RU 486/+LPS), with 70% of the animals surviving at 72 h, and significantly attenuated the peak plasma tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-6 responses to LPS, compared with those in the animals treated with vehicle alone. These data demonstrate that the blockade of glucocorticoid binding by RU 486 increases LPS-induced mortality. The reversal of this effect by the induction of hypercorticosteronemia prior to RU 486 and LPS exposure (+Cort/+RU 486/+LPS) improves survival and is further associated with significant attenuation of cytokine production. Therefore, these data suggest that the protective effect of the endogenous glucocorticoid response to acute endotoxemia may result from the down-regulation of a potentially lethal cytokine response.

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