Targeting Endothelial Dysfunction in Acute Critical Illness to Reduce Organ Failure

Nicole P Juffermans, Charissa E van den Brom, Derek J B Kleinveld

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


During hyperinflammatory conditions that can occur in acute critical illness, such as shock or hypoperfusion, inflammatory mediators activate the endothelium, fueling a proinflammatory host-response as well as procoagulant processes. These changes result in shedding of the glycocalyx, endothelial hyperpermeability, edema formation, and lead to disturbed microcirculatory perfusion and organ failure. Different fluid strategies that are used in shock may have differential effects on endothelial integrity. Collectively, low protein content fluids seem to have negative effects on the endothelial glycocalyx, aggravating endothelial hyperpermeability, whereas fluids containing albumin or plasma proteins may be superior to normal saline in protecting the glycocalyx and endothelial barrier function. Targeting the endothelium may be a therapeutic strategy to limit organ failure, which hitherto has not received much attention. Treatment targets aimed at restoring the endothelium should focus on maintaining glycocalyx function and/or targeting coagulation pathways or specific endothelial receptors. Potential treatments could be supplementing glycocalyx constituents or inhibiting glycocalyx breakdown. In this review, we summarize mechanisms of endothelial dysfunction during acute critical illness, such as the systemic inflammatory response, shedding of the glycocalyx, endothelial activation, and activation of coagulation. In addition, this review focuses on the effects of different fluid strategies on endothelial permeability. Also, potential mechanisms for treatment options to reduce endothelial hyperpermeability with ensuing organ failure are evaluated. Future research is needed to elucidate these pathways and to translate these data to the first human safety and feasibility trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1708-1720
Number of pages13
JournalAnesthesia and analgesia
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

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