What is the role of bacteria in the pathophysiology of sepsis/septic shock?

Updated: Oct 07, 2020
  • Author: Andre Kalil, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Michael R Pinsky, MD, CM, Dr(HC), FCCP, FAPS, MCCM  more...
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Gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria induce a variety of proinflammatory mediators, including the cytokines mentioned above, which play a pivotal role in initiating sepsis and shock. Various bacterial cell-wall components are known to release the cytokines, including lipopolysaccharide (LPS; gram-negative bacteria), peptidoglycan (gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria), and lipoteichoic acid (gram-positive bacteria).

Several of the harmful effects of bacteria are mediated by proinflammatory cytokines induced in host cells (macrophages/monocytes and neutrophils) by the bacterial cell-wall component. The most toxic component of gram-negative bacteria is the lipid A moiety of LPS, which leads to cytokine induction via lipoteichoic acid. Additionally, gram-positive bacteria may secrete superantigen cytotoxins that bind directly to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules and T-cell receptors, leading to massive cytokine production.

The complement system is activated and contributes to the clearance of the infecting microorganisms but probably also enhances the tissue damage. The contact systems become activated; consequently, bradykinin is generated.

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