Sepsis is a profoundly morbid and life-threatening condition, and an increasingly alarming burden on modern healthcare economies. Patients with septic shock exhibit persistent hypotension despite adequate volume resuscitation requiring pharmacological vasoconstrictors, but the molecular mechanisms of this phenomenon remain unclear. The accumulation of misfolded proteins is linked to numerous diseases, and it has been observed that soluble oligomeric protein intermediates are the primary cytotoxic species in these conditions. Oligomeric protein assemblies have been shown to bind and activate a variety of pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) including formyl peptide receptor (FPR). While inhibition of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and stabilization of protein homeostasis have been promising lines of inquiry regarding sepsis therapy, little attention has been given to the potential effects that the accumulation of misfolded proteins may have in driving sepsis pathogenesis. Here we propose that in sepsis, there is an accumulation of toxic misfolded proteins in the form of soluble protein oligomers (SPOs) that contribute to the inflammation and vascular dysfunction observed in sepsis via the activation of one or more PRRs including FPR. Our laboratory has shown increased levels of SPOs in the heart and intrarenal arteries of septic mice. We have also observed that exposure of resistance arteries and vascular smooth muscle cells to SPOs is associated with increased mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling including phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase (p-ERK) and p-P38 MAPK pathways, and that this response is abolished with the knockout of FPR. This hypothesis has promising clinical implications as it proposes a novel mechanism that can be exploited as a therapeutic target in sepsis.

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