Background: Assessment of immune status in critically ill patients is often based on serial tracking of systemic cytokine levels and clinical laboratory values. Exosomes are extracellular vesicles that can be secreted and internalized by cells to transport important cellular cargo in the regulation of numerous physiological and pathological processes. Here, we characterize the early compartmentalization profile of key proinflammatory mediators in serum exosomes in the steady state and following trauma. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats (91 including naïve) were divided into one of four traumatic injury model groups incorporating whole-body blast, fracture, soft-tissue crush injury, tourniquet-induced ischemia, and limb amputation. Serum was collected at 1, 3, 6, and 24 h, and 3- and 7-day post-injury. Electrochemiluminescence-based immunoassays for 9 key proinflammatory mediators in whole serum, isolated serum exosomes, and exosome depleted serum were analyzed and compared between naïve and injured rats. Serum clinical chemistry analysis was performed to determine pathological changes. Results: In naïve animals, substantial amounts of IL-1β, IL-10, and TNF-α were encapsulated, IL-6 was completely encapsulated, and CXCL1 freely circulating. One hour after blast injury alone, levels of exosome encapsulated IFN-γ, IL-10, IL-6, IL-13, IL-4, and TNF-α increased, whereas freely circulating and membrane-associated levels remained undetectable or low. Rats with the most severe polytraumatic injuries with end organ complications had the earliest rise and most pronounced concentration of IL-1β, IL-10, TNF-α, and IL-6 across all serum compartments. Moreover, CXCL1 levels increased in relation to injury severity, but remained almost entirely freely circulating at all timepoints. Conclusion: These findings highlight that conventional ELISA-based assessments, which detect only free circulating and exosome membrane-bound mediators, underestimate the full immunoinflammatory response to trauma. Inclusion of exosome encapsulated mediators may be a better, more accurate and clinically useful early strategy to identify, diagnose, and monitor patients at highest risk for post-traumatic inflammation-associated complications.
- Traumatic injury