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Crit Care. 2013 Nov 29;17(6):R276. doi: 10.1186/cc13131.

B and T lymphocyte attenuator expression on CD4+ T-cells associates with sepsis and subsequent infections in ICU patients.



Sepsis is a deadly inflammatory condition that often leads to an immune suppressed state; however, the events leading to this state remain poorly understood. B and T lymphocyte attenuator (BTLA) is an immune-regulatory receptor shown to effectively inhibit CD4+ T-cell function. Therefore, our objectives were to determine: 1) if lymphocyte BTLA expression was altered in critically ill patients and experimentally induced septic mice, 2) whether augmented CD4+ T-cell BTLA expression was associated with poor septic patient outcomes, and 3) if BTLA expression affected the CD4+ T-cell apoptotic cell loss observed in the lymphoid organs of septic mice.


Changes in CD4+ lymphocyte BTLA expression were compared with morbid event development in critically ill ICU patients (11 septic and 28 systemic inflammatory response syndrome subjects). Wild type and BTLA gene deficient mice were utilized to evaluate the expression and role of BTLA in septic lymphocyte apoptotic cell loss.


The observed septic ICU patients had a significantly higher percentage of peripheral blood BTLA+ CD4+ lymphocytes compared with critically ill non-septic individuals. Moreover, the non-septic patients with CD4+ T-cells that were greater than 80% BTLA+  were more susceptible to developing nosocomial infections. Additionally, in general, critically ill patients with CD4+ T-cells that were greater than 80% BTLA+  had longer hospital stays. Comparatively, circulating CD4+ T-cell and B-cell BTLA expression increased in septic mice, which associated with the increased septic loss of these cells. Finally, the loss of these cells and cellular apoptosis induction in primary and secondary lymphoid organs were reversed in BTLA deficient mice.


An increased BTLA+ CD4+ lymphocyte frequency in the observed critically ill non-septic patients was associated with a subsequent infection; therefore, BTLA may act as a biomarker to help determine nosocomial infection development. Additionally, BTLA expression contributed to primary and secondary lymphoid organ apoptotic cell loss in experimentally septic mice; thus, BTLA-induced apoptotic lymphocyte loss may be a mechanism for increased nosocomial infection risk in critically ill patients. This study had a relatively small human subject cohort; therefore, we feel these findings warrant future studies evaluating the use of BTLA as a critically ill patient nosocomial infection biomarker.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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