Exploring the onset of acute kidney injury during sepsis

In an earlier post I discussed the damage sepsis can do. It has been a focus of many of the projects I have been involved with for the past few years even though the group I am with is tasked with studying kidney disease. We are interested in sepsis because it is a major cause of acute kidney injury.

We do not yet know all the details of this link. Knowing exactly when kidney function falls after sepsis and what triggers the fall could be very important. It would help in developing clinical procedures and therapies to manage patients with sepsis at risk of acute kidney injury.

I recently published a study exploring one potential cause of falling kidney function during sepsis. The kidney filters the blood and removes excess fluid, solutes, and toxins from the body. The blood passes through the glomerulus where fluid can leak out. The volume at this stage is very large and includes many good things the body wants to keep. This fluid then passes through other specialized structures including the tubules where most of the fluid and useful solutes are re-absorbed. To prevent the body from losing too much fluid if the tubules are not working there is a feedback loop that stops the glomeruli producing filtrate.

Using a genetic model I tested whether this feedback loop is activated during sepsis. The results have just been published in the American Journal of Physiology. Renal Physiology.

Inflammatory responses to sepsis

In an earlier post (TLR4) I discussed the TLR4 receptor. This receptor detects microbes and starts an inflammatory response. TLR4 is not the only receptor that detects microbes. There are many receptors the immune system uses. This redundancy prevents microbes going undetected and matches the response to the microbe. At least, when everything works. An excessive response can cause sepsis. In sepsis the response is so strong that it damages tissues and can even cause organ failure.

I have recently collaborated with Oliver Voss and John Coligan from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. They were studying CD300b. This is another receptor that binds lipopolysaccharides (LPS) like TLR4. CD300b then binds to TLR4 and enhances its signaling. This enhanced signaling can then cause more tissue damage, leading to sepsis.

Inhibiting TLR4 does not work well for treating sepsis in humans. This might be because some TLR4 signaling helps combat infecting microbes. Inhibiting CD300b might strike a healthy balance between continuing to fight the infection and the excessive signaling causing tissue injury.

Comparing biomarkers for acute kidney injury

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a common complication in hospitalized patients. Patients with AKI are more likely to die or have a worse quality of life after leaving the hospital. Early treatment is our best option for preventing these bad outcomes. To start treatment we first need to detect AKI.

Several biomarkers go up when a patient has AKI. Doctors watch the biomarker levels and start treatment when they rise. There is still uncertainty about which biomarker is best.

I am co-author on a recently published article exploring this issue. We compared creatinine and cystatin C in the serum. Cystatin C predicted kidney function better than creatinine. There was no difference in predicting death.