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Alterations of caspase 9 mRNA gene expression in survivors and nonsurvivors of severe sepsis


Sepsis-induced lymphocyte apoptosis plays a fundamental role in the pathophysiology of sepsis. Recent animal models of sepsis have identified anomalies in the extrinsic apoptotic pathway, a key pathological occurrence in sepsis [1]. Specifically apoptosis markers such as caspases 1, 3, 8, 9 and FADD have been shown to be significant in animal models of infection [2]. We investigated mRNA transcription of these markers in a human model of severe sepsis. We hypothesized that ICU mortality from severe sepsis is associated with distinctive gene expression of extrinsic apoptosis markers.


A prospective observational study of patients with severe sepsis was performed. Mononuclear cells were isolated from 48 patients with severe sepsis. Total RNA was extracted from samples for day 1 of admission and again on day 7. FADD, caspase 1, 3, 8, and 9 mRNA was quantified with quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). Standard demographic and outcome data were recorded. Between-group comparisons were performed by Wilcoxon rank sum test. All values are stated as median and interquartile range.


Sixteen of the 48 patients died in the ICU. Caspase 9 mRNA copy numbers were significantly increased on day 7 in the survivor group (5.4 × 106; 7.4 × 106 to 8.9 × 106) compared with death in the ICU group (1.9 × 106; 3.0 × 106 to 1.2 × 106) P = 0.001. FADD, caspase 1, 3 and 8 mRNA copy numbers were not significantly different between patients who died and those discharged from the ICU on either day 1 or day 7 of admission.


Caspase 9 may be an important regulator of apoptotic mechanisms in humans with late sepsis. Pro-apoptotic mechanisms may have a role in the resolution of severe sepsis.


  1. 1.

    Oberholzer C, et al.: Apoptosis in sepsis: a new target for therapeutic exploration. FASEB J 2001, 15: 879-892. 10.1096/fj.00-058rev

  2. 2.

    Hotchkiss R, et al.: Accelerated lymphocyte death in sepsis occurs by both the death receptor and mitochrondrial pathways. J Immunol 2005, 174: 5110-5118.

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This study is funded by the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland and the Intensive Care Society Ireland.

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Correspondence to M White.

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White, M., Doherty, D., Kelleher, D. et al. Alterations of caspase 9 mRNA gene expression in survivors and nonsurvivors of severe sepsis. Crit Care 14, P7 (2010).

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  • Severe Sepsis
  • Human Model
  • mRNA Gene
  • mRNA Transcription
  • Apoptotic Mechanism