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Original article
Systemic inflammation after critical illness: relationship with physical recovery and exploration of potential mechanisms
  1. David M Griffith1,2,3,
  2. Steff Lewis4,
  3. Adriano G Rossi2,
  4. Jillian Rennie2,
  5. Lisa Salisbury5,
  6. Judith L Merriweather3,
  7. Kate Templeton6,
  8. Timothy S Walsh1,2,3,
  9. RECOVER Investigators1
    1. 1Department of Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
    2. 2MRC Centre for Inflammation Research, The Queen's Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
    3. 3Department of Critical Care, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, NHS Lothian, Edinburgh, UK
    4. 4Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
    5. 5School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
    6. 6Department of Medical Microbiology, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, NHS Lothian, Edinburgh, UK
    1. Correspondence to Dr David M Griffith, Department of Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, 57 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 4SA, UK; david.m.griffith{at}


    Background Physical recovery following critical illness is slow, often incomplete and is resistant to rehabilitation interventions. We aimed to explore the contribution of persisting inflammation to recovery, and investigated the potential role of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection in its pathogenesis.

    Methods In an a priori nested inflammatory biomarker study in a post-intensive care unit (ICU) rehabilitation trial (RECOVER; ISRCTN09412438), surviving adult ICU patients ventilated >48 h were enrolled at ICU discharge and blood sampled at ICU discharge (n=184) and 3 month follow-up (N=123). C-reactive protein (CRP), human neutrophil elastase (HNE), interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6, IL-8, transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1) and secretory leucocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI) were measured. HCMV IgG status was determined (previous exposure), and DNA PCR measured among seropositive patients (lytic infection). Physical outcome measures including the Rivermead Mobility Index (RMI) were measured at 3 months.

    Results Many patients had persisting inflammation at 3 months (CRP >3 mg/L in 59%; >10 mg/L in 28%), with proinflammatory phenotype (elevated HNE, IL-6, IL-8, SLPI; low TGFβ1). Poorer mobility (RMI) was associated with higher CRP (β=0.13; p<0.01) and HNE (β=0.32; p=0.03), even after adjustment for severity of acute illness and pre-existing co-morbidity (CRP β=0.14; p<0.01; HNE β=0.30; p=0.04). Patients seropositive for HCMV at ICU discharge (63%) had a more proinflammatory phenotype at 3 months than seronegative patients, despite undetectable HMCV by PCR testing.

    Conclusions Inflammation is prevalent after critical illness and is associated with poor physical recovery during the first 3 months post-ICU discharge. Previous HCMV exposure is associated with a proinflammatory phenotype despite the absence of detectable systemic viraemia.

    Trial registration number ISRCTN09412438, post results.

    • Innate Immunity
    • Exercise
    • Assisted Ventilation

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