Sepsis is a major public health concern, with high mortality and morbidity, especially among trauma patients. It is characterized by a systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) occurring in response to infection. Although classically associated with pathogens, many patients with SIRS do not have infection. The variability of the disease course cannot be fully explained by our current understanding of its pathogenesis. Thus other factors are likely to play key roles in the development and progression of SIRS/sepsis. Recent Advances: Circulating levels of damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) seem to correlate with SIRS/sepsis morbidity and mortality. Of the known DAMPs, those of mitochondrial (mt) origin have been of particular interest, since their DNA (mtDNA) and formyl peptides (mtFPs) resemble bacterial DNA and peptides, and hence, when released, may be recognized as “danger signals”.
mtDAMPs released after tissue injury trigger immune responses similar to those induced by pathogens. Thus they can result in systemic inflammation and organ damage, like that observed in SIRS/sepsis. We will discuss recent findings on the roles of mtDAMPs, particularly concerning the less recognized mtFPs, in the activation of inflammatory responses and development of SIRS/sepsis.
There are no established methods to predict the course of SIRS/sepsis, but clinical studies reveal that plasma levels of mtDAMPs may correlate with the outcome of the disease. We propose that non-pathogen-initiated, mtDAMPs-induced SIRS/sepsis events need further studies aimed at early clinical recognition and better treatment of this disease.