What Effect Do Corticosteroids Have on the Genomic Response of Pediatric Septic Shock?

The use of steroids in patients with inotrope/pressor–resistant septic shock is controversial in both adult and pediatric populations. While these patients’ hemodynamics may improve with adjunctive steroid treatment, the metabolic and immune costs may negate a definitive survival benefit. However, little has been written about the effects glucocorticoids have on global gene expression in patients with septic shock. Wong and colleagues address this topic by using a transcriptomics approach to characterize the genomic response of pediatric patients in septic shock who have received glucocorticoids. They found that the administration of corticosteroids in pediatric septic shock is associated with additional repression of genes corresponding to adaptive immunity. They did not comment on actual immune suppression, though, as qualitative evaluations of immunity were not performed.

Ultimately, steroid use in catecholamine-resistant septic shock — even in seemingly low doses — can have significant consequences in a patient’s ability to fight an initial infection or even subsequent nosocomial infections unrelated to the patient’s illness severity or infecting organism. This fact, coupled with the absence of definitive outcome benefits, should give pediatric critical care practitioners pause before prescribing steroids in children with septic shock.

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