The effects of cyclosporine administration on the adrenocortical response to the severe stress of burn wound sepsis were studied in Wistar rats. Animals were treated with cyclosporine (10 mg/kg/day) or saline by gavage for 10 days, then subjected to 30% scald burns with wound inoculation with Pseudomonas. Animals were sacrificed on Postburn Days (PBDs) 1, 4, and 7 for determination of serum corticosterone and ACTH levels and adrenal weights and histology. Adrenal glands from animals sacrificed on PBD 7 were also analyzed for DNA, RNA, and protein content. Cyclosporine treatment without injury had no significant effect on body weight gain, adrenal mass, or baseline ACTH or corticosterone levels. During sepsis, cyclosporine-treated animals demonstrated a significantly diminished adrenocortical response compared to those given only saline. Serum corticosterone levels in the cyclosporine group were 45, 53, and 62% lower on PBDs 1, 4, and 7, respectively, than in saline-treated controls (P < 0.01 on each day). ACTH levels were 43 and 36% lower in cyclosporine-treated animals on PBDs 4 and 7, respectively, compared to the saline-treated group (P < 0.05 on each day). Adrenal hyperplasia occurred in both groups by PBD 7, but increases in adrenal mass and in histologic changes associated with hyperplasia (lipid depletion, vascular dilation) were less pronounced in cyclosporine-treated animals compared to those receiving saline, while adrenal composition remained similar between the two groups. Thus, cyclosporine administration is associated with an attenuated adrenocortical response to the stress of sepsis due to diminished circulating levels of ACTH.
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