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Low levels of small HDL particles predict but do not influence risk of sepsis

Hamilton, Fergus, Pedersen, Kasper Mønsted, Ghazal, Peter ORCID:, Nordestgaard, Børge Grønne and Smith, George Davey 2023. Low levels of small HDL particles predict but do not influence risk of sepsis. Critical Care 27 , 389. 10.1186/s13054-023-04589-1

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Background: Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol have been associated with higher rates and severity of infection. Alterations in inflammatory mediators and infection are associated with alterations in HDL cholesterol. It is unknown whether the association between HDL and infection is present for all particle sizes, and whether the observed associations are confounded by IL-6 signalling. Methods: In the UK Biobank, ~ 270,000 individuals have data on HDL subclasses derived from nuclear magnetic resonance analysis. We estimated the association of particle count of total HDL and HDL subclasses (small, medium, large, and extra-large HDL) with sepsis, sepsis-related death, and critical care admission in a Cox regression model. We subsequently utilised genetic data from UK Biobank and FinnGen to perform Mendelian randomisation (MR) of each HDL subclass and sepsis to test for a causal relationship. Finally, we explored the role of IL-6 signalling as a potential causal driver of changes in HDL subclasses. Results: In observational analyses, higher particle count of small HDL was associated with protection from sepsis (Hazard ratio, HR 0.80; 95% CI 0.74–0.86, p = 4 × 10–9 comparing Quartile 4, highest quartile of HDL to Quartile 1, lowest quartile of HDL), sepsis-related death (HR 0.80; 95% CI 0.74–0.86, p = 2 × 10–4), and critical care admission with sepsis (HR 0.72 95% CI 0.60–0.85, p = 2 × 10–4). Parallel associations with other HDL subclasses were likely driven by changes in the small HDL compartment. MR analyses did not strongly support causality of small HDL particle count on sepsis incidence (Odds ratio, OR 0.98; 95% CI 0.89–1.07, p = 0.6) or death (OR 0.94, 95% CI 0.75–1.17, p = 0.56), although the estimate on critical care admission with sepsis supported protection (OR 0.73, 95% CI 0.57–0.95, p = 0.02). Bidirectional MR analyses suggested that increased IL-6 signalling was associated with reductions in both small (beta on small HDL particle count − 0.16, 95% CI − 0.10 to − 0.21 per natural log change in SD-scaled CRP, p = 9 × 10–8).and total HDL particle count (beta − 0.13, 95% CI − 0.09 to − 0.17, p = 7 × 10–10), but that the reverse effect of HDL on IL-6 signalling was largely null. Conclusions: Low number of small HDL particles are associated with increased hazard of sepsis, sepsis-related death, and sepsis-related critical care admission. However, genetic analyses did not strongly support this as causal. Instead, we demonstrate that increased IL-6 signalling, which is known to alter infection risk, could confound associations with reduced HDL particle count, and suggest this may explain part of the observed association between (small) HDL particle count and sepsis.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Medicine
Additional Information: License information from Publisher: LICENSE 1: URL:, Type: open-access
Publisher: BioMed Central
ISSN: 1364-8535
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 10 October 2023
Date of Acceptance: 24 July 2023
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2023 01:28

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