Toll-like receptors (TLRs) play an important role in inflammatory processes in critically ill patients by binding to pathogen-associated molecular patterns and danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs). Whether neutrophil or monocyte TLR expression patterns are associated with outcome in critical illness is unknown.
To answer this question, we conducted a prospective, observational study including 215 consecutive patients admitted to a medical ICU at a tertiary care center.
Blood was drawn at admission and expression of TLR-2, TLR-4, and TLR-9 on neutrophils and monocytes were analyzed by flow cytometry.
Median Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II (APACHE II) score was 19, and 30-day mortality was 26%. TLR-2 expression on neutrophils was associated with APACHE II, Simplified Acute Physiology Score II, and Sepsis-related Organ Failure Assessment score. TLR-2 (P < 0.001) and TLR-9 (P < 0.05) expression on neutrophils was significantly higher in nonsurvivors. In contrast, neutrophil TLR-4 expression and monocyte TLR expression were not associated with survival. Neutrophil TLR-2 (odds ratio 3.8; 95% confidence interval 1.4–10.2; P < 0.05) and TLR-9 (odds ratio 4.0; 95% confidence interval 2.0–8.1; P < 0.001) expression in the third tertile predicted mortality independent from APACHE II, serum lactate, serum creatinine, and procalcitonin, respectively.
We provide evidence for prognostic properties of neutrophil TLR-2 and TLR-9 expression regarding 30-day mortality in unselected critically ill patients, independent from baseline clinical characteristics, and laboratory values. These findings suggest that specific TLR-dependent activation of the innate immune system via neutrophils possibly caused by cell damage and release of otherwise intracellular components may play a significant role in the pathophysiology of critical illness.