Rapid onset of intestinal epithelial and lymphocyte apoptotic cell death in patients with trauma and shock

Richard S. Hotchkiss*, Robert E. Schmieg, Paul E. Swanson, Bradley D. Freeman, Kevin W. Tinsley, J. Perren Cobb, Irene E. Karl, Timothy G. Buchman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

166 Scopus citations


Objective: Apoptosis is a cellular suicide program that can be activated by cell injury or stress. Although a number of laboratory studies have shown that ischemia/reperfusion injury can induce apoptosis, few clinical studies have been performed. The purpose of this study was to determine whether apoptosis is a major mechanism of cell death in intestinal epithelial cells and lymphocytes in patients who sustained trauma, shock, and ischemia/reperfusion injury. Design: Intestinal tissues were obtained intraoperatively from 10 patients with acute traumatic injuries as a result of motor vehicle collisions or gun shot wounds. A control population consisted of six patients who underwent elective bowel resections. Apoptosis was evaluated by conventional light microscopy, laser scanning confocal microscopy using the nuclear staining dye Hoechst 33342, immunohistochemical staining for active caspase-3, and immunohistochemical staining for cytokeratin 18. Setting: Academic medical center. Patients: Patients with trauma or elective bowel resections. Measurements and Main Results: Extensive focal crypt epithelial and lymphocyte apoptosis were demonstrated by multiple methods of examination in the majority of trauma patients. Trauma patients having the highest injury severity score tended to have the most severe apoptosis. Repeat intestinal samples obtained from two of the trauma patients who had a high degree of apoptosis on initial evaluation were negative for apoptosis at the time of the second operation. Tissue lymphocyte apoptosis was associated with a markedly decreased circulating lymphocyte count in 9 of 10 trauma patients. Conclusions: Focal apoptosis of intestinal epithelial and lymphoid tissues occurs extremely rapidly after injury. Apoptotic loss of intestinal epithelial cells may compromise bowel wall integrity and be a mechanism for bacterial or endotoxin translocation into the systemic circulation. Apoptosis of lymphocytes may impair immunologic defenses and predispose to infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3207-3217
Number of pages11
JournalCritical Care Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • B cells
  • Caspase
  • Colon
  • Endotoxin
  • Gut
  • Human
  • Lamina propria
  • Mucosa
  • Programmed cell death
  • T cells
  • Trauma


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