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Sedation improves early outcome in severely septic Sprague Dawley rats.

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Sepsis, a systemic inflammatory response to infective etiologies, has a high mortality rate that is linked both to excess cytokine activity and apoptosis of critical immune cells. Dexmedetomidine has recently been shown to improve outcome in a septic cohort of patients when compared to patients randomized to a benzodiazepine-based sedative regimen. We sought to compare the effects of dexmedetomidine and midazolam, at equi-sedative doses, on inflammation and apoptosis in an animal model of severe sepsis.


After central venous access, Sprague Dawley rats underwent cecal ligation and intestinal puncture (CLIP) with an 18 G needle without antibiotic cover and received either saline, or an infusion of comparable volume of saline containing midazolam (0.6 or dexmedetomidine (5 for 8 hours. Following baseline measurements and CLIP, blood was sampled for cytokine measurement (tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and interleukin (IL)-6; n = 4-6 per group) at 2, 4 and 5 hours, and animal mortality rate (MR) was monitored (n = 10 per group) every 2 hours until 2 hours had elapsed. In addition, spleens were harvested and apoptosis was assessed by immunoblotting (n = 4 per group).


The 24 hour MR in CLIP animals (90%) was significantly reduced by sedative doses of either dexmedetomidine (MR = 20%) or midazolam (MR = 30%). While both sedatives reduced systemic levels of the inflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha (P < 0.05); only dexmedetomidine reduced the IL-6 response to CLIP, though this narrowly missed achieving significance (P = 0.05). Dexmedetomidine reduced splenic caspase-3 expression (P < 0.05), a marker of apoptosis, when compared to either midazolam or saline.


Sedation with midazolam and dexmedetomidine both improve outcome in polymicrobial severely septic rats. Possible benefits conveyed by one sedative regimen over another may become evident over a more prolonged time-course as both IL-6 and apoptosis were reduced by dexmedetomidine but not midazolam. Further studies are required to evaluate this hypothesis.

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