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Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2016 Jun 20;7:70. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2016.00070. eCollection 2016.

The Role of ACTH and Corticosteroids for Sepsis and Septic Shock: An Update.

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General Intensive Care Unit, Raymond Poincaré Hospital (AP-HP), Garches, France; Laboratory of Infection and Inflammation, U1173, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University, INSERM, Garches, France.


Sepsis is a common disorder associated with high morbidity and mortality. It is now defined as an abnormal host response to infection, resulting in life-threatening dysfunction of organs. There is evidence from in vitro and in vivo experiments in various animal models and in patients that endotoxin or sepsis may directly and indirectly alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal response to severe infection. These alterations may include necrosis or hemorrhage or inflammatory mediator-mediated decreased ACTH synthesis, steroidogenesis, cortisol delivery to tissues, clearance from plasma, and decreased sensitivity of tissues to cortisol. Disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis may translate in patients with sepsis into cardiovascular and other organ dysfunction, and eventually an increase in the risk of death. Exogenous administration of corticosteroids at moderate dose, i.e., <400 mg of hydrocortisone or equivalent for >96 h, may help reversing sepsis-associated shock and organ dysfunction. Corticosteroids may also shorten the duration of stay in the ICU. Except for increased blood glucose and sodium levels, treatment with corticosteroids was rather well tolerated in the context of clinical trials. The benefit of treatment on survival remains controversial. Based on available randomized controlled trials, the likelihood of survival benefit is greater in septic shock versus sepsis patients, in sepsis with acute respiratory distress syndrome or with community-acquired pneumonia versus patients without these conditions, and in patients with a blunted cortisol response to 250 μg of ACTH test versus those with normal response.


cytokines; hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis; nitric oxide; sepsis; stress response

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