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J Immunol. 2011 Aug 15;187(4):1950-6. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1003391. Epub 2011 Jul 6.

Prevention of lymphocyte apoptosis in septic mice with cancer increases mortality.

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Department of Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Lymphocyte apoptosis is thought to have a major role in the pathophysiology of sepsis. However, there is a disconnect between animal models of sepsis and patients with the disease, because the former use subjects that were healthy prior to the onset of infection while most patients have underlying comorbidities. The purpose of this study was to determine whether lymphocyte apoptosis prevention is effective in preventing mortality in septic mice with preexisting cancer. Mice with lymphocyte Bcl-2 overexpression (Bcl-2-Ig) and wild type (WT) mice were injected with a transplantable pancreatic adenocarcinoma cell line. Three weeks later, after development of palpable tumors, all animals received an intratracheal injection of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Despite having decreased sepsis-induced T and B lymphocyte apoptosis, Bcl-2-Ig mice had markedly increased mortality compared with WT mice following P. aeruginosa pneumonia (85 versus 44% 7-d mortality; p = 0.004). The worsened survival in Bcl-2-Ig mice was associated with increases in Th1 cytokines TNF-α and IFN-γ in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and decreased production of the Th2 cytokine IL-10 in stimulated splenocytes. There were no differences in tumor size or pulmonary pathology between Bcl-2-Ig and WT mice. To verify that the mortality difference was not specific to Bcl-2 overexpression, similar experiments were performed in Bim(-/-) mice. Septic Bim(-/-) mice with cancer also had increased mortality compared with septic WT mice with cancer. These data demonstrate that, despite overwhelming evidence that prevention of lymphocyte apoptosis is beneficial in septic hosts without comorbidities, the same strategy worsens survival in mice with cancer that are given pneumonia.

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