Researchers identify hormone to fight sepsis

The human protein resistin may be a possible tool for fighting sepsis, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sepsis occurs when the body turns against itself in an extreme response to an existing infection. For the study, biomedical researchers examined how resistin, which is highly expressed during sepsis, relates to the condition.

Previous research hypothesized that resistin may exacerbate the body's inflammatory response to infection, thereby contributing to sepsis. Conversely, when examining human blood samples, the researchers found human resistin inhibited pro-inflammatory proteins that aid cell-to-cell communication in immune responses. The protein can block communication from receptors to inflammatory cells, specifically when lipopolysaccharide — the primary component in the cell wall of the sepsis-causing bacteria — is present. Next, researchers introduced a sepsis-like infection to mice genetically altered to express high levels of resistin. These mice all survived the infection.

"A lot of scientific literature has posited that resistin is harmful," said Meera G. Nair, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at University of California-Riverside's School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "But we may have misunderstood this secreted protein in our blood. My lab was intrigued by why we make so much of a substance that is, supposedly, not good for us. Resistin, we have now found, has a benefit: it is protective in sepsis. Further, because our bodies make this therapeutic, there is no fear of it being rejected."

More than 1.5 million people develop sepsis annually in the U.S., according to the CDC

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