Researchers from France, Germany, and South Korea have discovered that the hormone, growth and differentiation factor 15 (GDF15), known to regulate metabolism and energy homeostasis, could increase the risk of severe infection including sepsis.

Their study, “CXCL5-mediated recruitment of neutrophils into the peritoneal cavity of Gdf15-deficient mice protects against abdominal sepsis,” is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. It occurs when the body’s response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems.

With the goal of expanding knowledge of sepsis, Luis Moita’s team at Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) investigated whether GDF15 could play a role in sepsis.

“We’ve discovered a critical effect of GDF15 on infection, which is relevant because this hormone increases in many common diseases, like obesity, pulmonary, and cardiovascular diseases,” stated Moita.

GDF15 levels were measured in blood samples from patients with sepsis, under treatment in intensive care units, and compared GDF15 levels of healthy individuals, and of patients diagnosed with appendicitis. The researchers’ results showed that sepsis patients had increased levels of GDF15 when compared with the other groups, and that the high levels of the hormone were correlated with mortality.

The researchers then studied mice that did not have the GDF15 gene. Their results revealed that they survived better to a bacterial abdominal infection that resembles sepsis in human patients, suggesting that the hormone plays a role in sepsis.

“Our results identify GDF15 as a potential target to improve sepsis treatment. Its inhibition should increase neutrophil recruitment to the site of infection and consequently lead to better pathogen control and clearance,” the researchers wrote.

“At a time when many pharmaceutical companies and groups are considering using GDF15 as a complementary therapy for obesity, it’s important to have in mind that this therapeutic strategy could increase the risk of severe infection, including sepsis,” Moita noted.

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