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Crit Care. 2010;14(4):R140. doi: 10.1186/cc9205. Epub 2010 Jul 28.

Cerebral microcirculation is impaired during sepsis: an experimental study.

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Department of Intensive Care, Erasme Hospital, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Route de Lennik 808, 1070 Bruxelles, Belgium.



Pathophysiology of brain dysfunction due to sepsis remains poorly understood. Cerebral microcirculatory alterations may play a role; however, experimental data are scarce. This study sought to investigate whether the cerebral microcirculation is altered in a clinically relevant animal model of septic shock.


Fifteen anesthetized, invasively monitored, and mechanically ventilated female sheep were allocated to a sham procedure (n = 5) or sepsis (n = 10), in which peritonitis was induced by intra-abdominal injection of autologous faeces. Animals were observed until spontaneous death or for a maximum of 20 hours. In addition to global hemodynamic assessment, the microcirculation of the cerebral cortex was evaluated using Sidestream Dark-Field (SDF) videomicroscopy at baseline, 6 hours, 12 hours and at shock onset. At least five images of 20 seconds each from separate areas were recorded at each time point and stored under a random number to be analyzed, using a semi-quantitative method, by an investigator blinded to time and condition.


All septic animals developed a hyperdynamic state associated with organ dysfunction and, ultimately, septic shock. In the septic animals, there was a progressive decrease in cerebral total perfused vessel density (from 5.9 ± 0.9 at baseline to 4.8 ± 0.7 n/mm at shock onset, P = 0.009), functional capillary density (from 2.8 ± 0.4 to 2.1 ± 0.7 n/mm, P = 0.049), the proportion of small perfused vessels (from 95 ± 3 to 85 ± 8%, P = 0.02), and the total number of perfused capillaries (from 22.7 ± 2.7 to 17.5 ± 5.2 n/mm, P = 0.04). There were no significant changes in microcirculatory flow index over time. In sham animals, the cerebral microcirculation was unaltered during the study period.


In this model of peritonitis, the cerebral microcirculation was impaired during sepsis, with a significant reduction in perfused small vessels at the onset of septic shock. These alterations may play a role in the pathogenesis of septic encephalopathy.

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