OBJECTIVES: Clinically, procalcitonin represents the most widely used biomarker of sepsis worldwide with unclear pathophysiologic significance to date. Pharmacologically, procalcitonin was shown to signal through both calcitonin receptor and calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor in vitro, yet the identity of its biologically relevant receptor remains unknown.
DESIGN: Prospective randomized animal investigations and in vitro human blood studies.
SETTING: Research laboratory of a university hospital.
SUBJECTS: C57BL/6J mice and patients with post-traumatic sepsis.
INTERVENTIONS: Procalcitonin-deficient mice were used to decipher a potential mediator role in experimental septic shock and identify the relevant receptor for procalcitonin. Cecal ligation and puncture and endotoxemia models were employed to investigate septic shock. Disease progression was evaluated through survival analysis, histology, proteome profiling, gene expression, and flow cytometry. Mechanistic studies were performed with cultured macrophages, dendritic cells, and gamma delta T cells. Main findings were confirmed in serum samples of patients with post-traumatic sepsis.
MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Procalcitonin-deficient mice are protected from septic shock and show decreased pulmonary inflammation. Mechanistically, procalcitonin potentiates proinflammatory cytokine expression in innate immune cells, required for interleukin-17A expression in gamma delta T cells. In patients with post-traumatic sepsis, procalcitonin positively correlates with systemic interleukin-17A levels. In mice with endotoxemia, immunoneutralization of interleukin-17A inhibits the deleterious effect of procalcitonin on disease outcome. Although calcitonin receptor expression is irrelevant for disease progression, the nonpeptide calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor antagonist olcegepant, a prototype of currently introduced antimigraine drugs, inhibits procalcitonin signaling and increases survival time in septic shock.
CONCLUSIONS: Our experimental data suggest that procalcitonin exerts a moderate but harmful effect on disease progression in experimental septic shock. In addition, the study points towards the calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor as relevant for procalcitonin signaling and suggests a potential therapeutic application for calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor inhibitors in sepsis, which warrants further clinical investigation.