The relationship between immune status as measured by stimulated ex-vivo tumour necrosis factor alpha levels and the acquisition of nosocomial infections in critically ill mechanically ventilated patients

Gabrielle Levin, J Gordon Boyd, Andrew Day, Miranda Hunt, David M Maslove, Patrick Norman, Nicole O'Callaghan, Stephanie Sibley, John Muscedere
Intensive Care Medicine Experimental 2020 September 16, 8 (1): 55

INTRODUCTION: Immunological dysfunction is common in critically ill patients but its clinical significance and the optimal method to measure it are unknown. The level of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) after ex-vivo whole blood stimulation with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) has been proposed as a possible method to quantify immunological function. We hypothesized that in a cohort of critically ill patients, those with a lower post-stimulation TNF-α level would have increased rates of nosocomial infections (NIs) and worse clinical outcomes.

METHODS: A secondary analysis of a phase 2 randomized, multi-centre, double-blinded placebo-controlled trial. As there was no difference between treatment and control arms in outcomes and NI rate, all the patients were analyzed as one cohort. On enrolment, day 4, 7, and weekly until day 28, whole blood was incubated with LPS ex-vivo and subsequent TNF-α level was measured. Patients were grouped in tertiles according to delta and peak TNF-α level. The primary outcome was the association between NIs and tertiles of TNF-α level post LPS stimulation; secondary outcomes included ICU and 90-day mortality, and ICU and hospital length of stay.

RESULTS: Data was available for 201 patients. Neither the post LPS stimulation delta TNF-α group nor the peak TNF-α post-stimulation group were associated with the development of NIs or clinical outcomes. Patients in the highest tertile for post LPS stimulation delta TNF-α compared to the lowest tertile were younger [61.1 years ± 15.7 vs. 68.6 years ± 12.8 standard deviations (SD) in the lowest tertile], had lower acuity of illness (APACHE II 25.0 ± 9.7 vs. 26.7 ± 6.1) and had lower baseline TNF-α (9.9 pg/mL ± 19.0 vs. 31.0 pg/mL ± 68.5). When grouped according to peak post-stimulation TNF-α levels, patients in the highest tertile had higher serum TNF-α at baseline (21.3 pg/mL ± 66.7 compared to 6.5 pg/mL ± 9.0 in the lowest tertile).

CONCLUSION: In this prospective multicenter study, ex-vivo stimulated TNF-α level was not associated with the occurrence of NIs or clinical outcomes. Further study is required to better ascertain whether TNF levels and ex-vivo stimulation can be used to characterize immune function in critical illness and if other assays might be better suited to this task.

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