Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is likely to be an important mediator of the inflammatory response. We measured levels of this cytokine in plasma samples from 37 patients with sepsis or septic shock obtained at the time of admission to the intensive care unit and related these levels to hemodynamic and biochemical parameters as well as to clinical outcome. In 32 of the 37 patients, increased levels of IL-6 were found, occasionally up to 7,500 times the normal level. The highest IL-6 levels were encountered in patients who suffered from septic shock (P value of the difference between patients with and without shock less than .0001). In addition, IL-6 significantly correlated with plasma lactate (P less than .0001), heart rate (P = .05) and, inversely, with mean arterial pressure (P = .01) and platelet counts (P = .0002). Significant correlations of IL-6 with the anaphylatoxins C3a (P = .0001) and C4a (P = .0002) and with the main inhibitor of the classical pathway of complement, C1-inhibitor (inverse correlation, P = .05), were also observed. IL-6 on admission appeared to be of prognostic significance: levels were higher in septic patients who subsequently died than in those who survived (P = .0003), in particular when only patients with septic shock were considered (P less than .0001). All nine septic patients with levels of less than 40 U/mL on admission survived, whereas 89% of the nine patients with levels exceeding 7,500 U/mL died. These data provide evidence for a role of IL-6 in the pathophysiology of septic shock. Further studies are needed to reveal whether IL-6 in sepsis is directly involved in mediating lethal complications or whether it is to be considered as an “alarm hormone” that reflects endothelial cell injury probably mediated by the anaphylatoxines.

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