Role of CuZn superoxide dismutase in regulating lymphocyte apoptosis during sepsis

Bradley D. Freeman*, Andrew G. Reaume, Paul E. Swanson, Charles J. Epstein, Elaine J. Carlson, Timothy G. Buchman, Irene E. Karl, Richard S. Hotchkiss

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective: The lymphocyte is a principal mediator of the inflammatory response, and lymphocyte depletion via apoptosis may be an important mechanism of modulating inflammation. Increased oxygen consumption occurs during sepsis and results in the generation of reactive oxygen species. Although reactive oxygen species initiate apoptosis in many biological systems, their role in controlling lymphocyte apoptosis during sepsis is unclear. The objective of this study was to better characterize the role of oxidative stress in precipitating lymphocyte apoptosis during sepsis and to specifically define the role of the CuZn superoxide dismutase (SOD) enzyme complex, a major antioxidant defense, in modulating this process. Design: Prospective, randomized, controlled study. Setting: Research laboratory at an academic medical center. Subjects: Mice that were either genetically normal or that were deficient in or overexpressed the enzyme CuZn SOD. Interventions: Mice from each genetic group were randomized to no manipulation (control), sham surgery, or cecal ligation and puncture. Mice were killed 18-24 hrs after study entry, and the thymi and spleen were removed for analysis of apoptosis. Measurements and Main Results: Lymphocyte apoptosis was assessed by three independent methods: light microscopy, fluorescent terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick end-labeling, and DNA gel electrophoresis. Comparisons were performed using standard parametric statistical tests. Lymphocyte apoptosis was present in mice after CLP but not in control mice or in mice after sham surgery (p < .05). Mice completely lacking CuZn SOD developed significantly more lymphocyte apoptosis than did either partially CuZn SOD-deficient or genetically normal mice (p < .05). This apoptosis was more pronounced in the thymus than the spleen and, within the thymus, more prominent in the cortex than medulla (p < .05 for all). In contrast, mice that overexpressed CuZn SOD did not differ in the amount of apoptosis after CLP compared with genetically normal mice (p = NS for all). Conclusions: Oxidative stress occurs in sepsis and appears to be one stimulus for the development of lymphocyte apoptosis, a process that is partly regulated by CuZn SOD. However, we were unable to demonstrate that overexpression of this enzyme suppressed lymphocyte apoptosis, suggesting that either other antioxidant defenses or other pathways independent of oxidative stress may mediate lymphocyte elimination in this syndrome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1701-1708
Number of pages8
JournalCritical Care Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Antioxidant
  • Apoptosis
  • Cecal ligation and puncture
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Lymphocyte
  • Mouse
  • Oxidative stress
  • Sepsis
  • Superoxide dismutase


Dive into the research topics of 'Role of CuZn superoxide dismutase in regulating lymphocyte apoptosis during sepsis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this