Multidimensional analysis of the host response reveals prognostic and pathogen-driven immune subtypes among adults with sepsis in Uganda

Cummings, Matthew J.; Bakamutumaho, Barnabas; Price, Adam; Owor, Nicholas; Kayiwa, John; Namulondo, Joyce; Byaruhanga, Timothy; Muwanga, Moses; Nsereko, Christopher; Sameroff, Stephen; Tokarz, Rafal; Wong, Wai; Shah, Shivang S.; Larsen, Michelle H.; Lipkin, W. I.; Lutwama, Julius J.; O’Donnell, Max R.

The global burden of sepsis is concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where severe infections disproportionately affect young, HIV-infected adults and high-burden pathogens are unique. In this context, poor understanding of sepsis immunopathology represents a crucial barrier to development of locally-effective treatment strategies. We sought to determine inter-individual immunologic heterogeneity among adults hospitalized with sepsis in a sub-Saharan African setting, and characterize associations between immune subtypes, infecting pathogens, and clinical outcomes.

Among a prospective observational cohort of 288 adults hospitalized with suspected sepsis in Uganda, we applied machine learning methods to 14 soluble host immune mediators, reflective of key domains of sepsis immunopathology (innate and adaptive immune activation, endothelial dysfunction, fibrinolysis), to identify immune subtypes in randomly-split discovery (N = 201) and internal validation (N = 87) sub-cohorts. In parallel, we applied similar methods to whole-blood RNA-sequencing data from a consecutive subset of patients (N = 128) to identify transcriptional subtypes, which we characterized using biological pathway and immune cell-type deconvolution analyses.

Unsupervised clustering consistently identified two immune subtypes defined by differential activation of pro-inflammatory innate and adaptive immune pathways, with transcriptional evidence of concomitant CD56(-)/CD16( +) NK-cell expansion, T-cell exhaustion, and oxidative-stress and hypoxia-induced metabolic and cell-cycle reprogramming in the hyperinflammatory subtype. Immune subtypes defined by greater pro-inflammatory immune activation, T-cell exhaustion, and metabolic reprogramming were consistently associated with a high-prevalence of severe and often disseminated HIV-associated tuberculosis, as well as more extensive organ dysfunction, worse functional outcomes, and higher 30-day mortality.

Our results highlight unique host- and pathogen-driven features of sepsis immunopathology in sub-Saharan Africa, including the importance of severe HIV-associated tuberculosis, and reinforce the need to develop more biologically-informed treatment strategies in the region, particularly those incorporating immunomodulation.


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August 10, 2022


Sepsis, Biomarkers, Tuberculosis, High-throughput nucleotide sequencing, Uganda, Africa