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Inflammation (Latin, inflammatio, a setting on fire) is the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. Inflammation is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the injurious stimuli as well as initiate the healing process for the tissue. Inflammation is not a synonym for infection. Even in cases where inflammation is caused by infection, the two are not synonymous: infection is caused by an exogenous pathogen, while inflammation is one of the responses of the organism to the pathogen.

In the absence of inflammation, wounds and infections would never heal and progressive destruction of the tissue would compromise the survival of the organism. However, chronic inflammation can also lead to a host of diseases, such as hay fever, atherosclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is for that reason that inflammation is normally closely regulated by the body.

Inflammation can be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is the initial response of the body to harmful stimuli and is achieved by the increased movement of plasma and leukocytes from the blood into the injured tissues. A cascade of biochemical events propagates and matures the inflammatory response, involving the local vascular system, the immune system, and various cells within the injured tissue. Prolonged inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, leads to a progressive shift in the type of cells which are present at the site of inflammation and is characterized by simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissue from the inflammatory process.

Causes



Types

Comparison between acute and chronic inflammation:
Acute Chronic
Causative agent Pathogens, injured tissues Persistent acute inflammation due to non-degradable pathogens, persistent foreign bodies, or autoimmune reactions
Major cells involved Neutrophils, mononuclear cells (monocytes, macrophages) Mononuclear cells (monocytes, macrophages, lymphocytes, plasma cells), fibroblasts
Primary mediators Vasoactive amines, eicosanoids IFN-γ and other cytokines, growth factors, reactive oxygen species, hydrolytic enzymes
Onset Immediate Delayed
Duration Few days Up to many months, or years
Outcomes Resolution, abscess formation, chronic inflammation Tissue destruction, fibrosis


Clinical signs

The classic signs and symptoms of acute inflammation:
English Latin
Redness Rubor*
Swelling Tumor/Turgor*
Heat Calor*
Pain Dolor*
Loss of function Functio laesa**
All the above signs may be observed in specific instances, but no single sign must, as a matter of course, be present.These are the original, so called, "cardinal signs" of inflammation.*

Functio laesa is a bit of an apocryphal notion, as it is not really unique to inflammation and is a characteristic of many disease states.**


Infected ingrown toenail showing the characteristic redness and swelling associated with acute inflammation


Acute inflammation is a short-term process, usually appearing within a few minutes or hours and ceasing upon the removal of the injurious stimulus.. It is characterized by five cardinal signs:
  • rubor (redness),
  • calor (increased heat),
  • tumor (swelling),
  • dolor (pain), and
  • functio laesa (loss of function).


The first four (classical signs) were described by Celsus (ca 30 BC–38 AD), while loss of function was added later by Galen even though the attribution is disputed and the origination of the fifth sign has also been ascribed to Thomas Sydenham and Virchow.

Redness and heat are due to increased blood flow at body core temperature to the inflamed site; swelling is caused by accumulation of fluid; pain is due to release of chemicals that stimulate nerve endings. Loss of function has multiple causes.

These five signs appear when acute inflammation occurs on the body's surface, whereas acute inflammation of internal organs may not result in the full set. Pain only happens where the appropriate sensory nerve endings exist in the inflamed area — e.g., acute inflammation of the lung (pneumonia) does not cause pain unless the inflammation involves the parietal pleura, which does have pain-sensitive nerve endings.

Process of acute inflammation

The process of acute inflammation is initiated by cells already present in all tissues, mainly resident macrophages, dendritic cells, histiocytes, Kuppfer cells and mastocytes. At the onset of an infection, burn, or other injuries, these cells undergo activation and release inflammatory mediators responsible for the clinical signs of inflammation. Vasodilation and its resulting increased blood flow causes the redness (rubor) and increased heat (calor). Increased permeability of the blood vessels results in an exudation (leakage) of plasma proteins and fluid into the tissue (oedema), which manifests itself as swelling (tumor). Some of the released mediators such as bradykinin increase the sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia, dolor). The mediator molecules also alter the blood vessels to permit the migration of leukocytes, mainly neutrophils, outside of the blood vessels (extravasation) into the tissue. The neutrophils migrate along a chemotactic gradient created by the local cells to reach the site of injury. The loss of function (functio laesa) is probably the result of a neurological reflex in response to pain.

In addition to cell-derived mediators, several acellular biochemical cascade systems consisting of preformed plasma proteins act in parallel to initiate and propagate the inflammatory response. These include the complement system activated by bacteria, and the coagulation and fibrinolysis systems activated by necrosis, e.g. a burn or a trauma.

The acute inflammatory response requires constant stimulation to be sustained. Inflammatory mediators have short half lives and are quickly degraded in the tissue. Hence, inflammation ceases once the stimulus has been removed.

Exudative component

The exudative component involves the movement of plasma fluid, containing important proteins such as fibrin and immunoglobulins (antibodies), into inflamed tissue. This movement is achieved via the chemically induced dilation and increased permeability of blood vessels, which results in a net loss of blood plasma. The increased collection of fluid into the tissue causes it to swell (edema).

Vascular changes

Acute inflammation is characterised by marked vascular changes, including vasodilation, increased permeability, and the slowing of blood flow, which are induced by the actions of various inflammatory mediators. Vasodilation occurs first at the arteriole level, progressing to the capillary level, and brings about a net increase in the amount of blood present, causing the redness and heat of inflammation. Increased permeability of the vessels results in the movement of plasma into the tissues, with resultant stasis due to the increase in the concentration of the cells within blood - a condition characterised by enlarged vessels packed with cells. Stasis allows leukocytes to marginate (move) along the endothelium, a process critical to their recruitment into the tissues. Normal flowing blood prevents this, as the shearing force along the periphery of the vessels moves cells in the blood into the middle of the vessel.

Plasma cascade systems

  • The complement system, when activated, results in the increased removal of pathogens via opsonisation and phagocytosis.
  • The kinin system generates proteins capable of sustaining vasodilation and other physical inflammatory effects.
  • The coagulation system or clotting cascade which forms a protective protein mesh over sites of injury.
  • The fibrinolysis system, which acts in opposition to the coagulation system, to counterbalance clotting and generate several other inflammatory mediators.


Plasma derived mediators

* non-exhaustive list
Name Produced by Description
Bradykinin Kinin system A vasoactive protein which is able to induce vasodilation, increase vascular permeability, cause smooth muscle contraction, and induce pain.
C3 Complement system Cleaves to produce C3a and C3b. C3a stimulates histamine release by mast cells, thereby producing vasodilation. C3b is able to bind to bacterial cell walls and act as an opsonin, which marks the invader as a target for phagocytosis.
C5a Complement system Stimulates histamine release by mast cells, thereby producing vasodilation. It is also able to act as a chemoattractant to direct cells via chemotaxis to the site of inflammation.
Factor XII (Hageman Factor) Liver A protein which circulates inactively, until activated by collagen, platelets, or exposed basement membranes via conformational change. When activated, it in turn is able to activate three plasma systems involved in inflammation: the kinin system, fibrinolysis system, and coagulation system.
Membrane attack complex Complement system A complex of the complement proteins C5b, C6, C7, C8, and multiple units of C9. The combination and activation of this range of complement proteins forms the membrane attack complex, which is able to insert into bacterial cell walls and causes cell lysis with ensuing death.
Plasmin Fibrinolysis system Able to break down fibrin clots, cleave complement protein C3, and activate Factor XII.
Thrombin Coagulation system Cleaves the soluble plasma protein fibrinogen to produce insoluble fibrin, which aggregates to form a blood clot. Thrombin can also bind to cells via the PAR1 receptor to trigger several other inflammatory responses, such as production of chemokines and nitric oxide.


Cellular component

The cellular component involves leukocytes, which normally reside in blood and must move into the inflamed tissue via extravasation to aid in inflammation. Some act as phagocytes, ingesting bacteria, viruses, and cellular debris. Others release enzymatic granule which damage pathogenic invaders. Leukocytes also release inflammatory mediators which develop and maintain the inflammatory response. Generally speaking, acute inflammation is mediated by granulocytes, while chronic inflammation is mediated by mononuclear cells such as monocytes and lymphocytes.

Leukocyte extravasation

Neutrophils migrate from blood vessels to the inflamed tissue via chemotaxis, where they remove pathogens through phagocytosis and degranulation


Various leukocytes are critically involved in the initiation and maintenance of inflammation. These cells must be able to get to the site of injury from their usual location in the blood, therefore mechanisms exist to recruit and direct leukocytes to the appropriate place. The process of leukocyte movement from the blood to the tissues through the blood vessels is known as extravasation, and can be divided up into a number of broad steps:
  1. Leukocyte localisation and recruitment to the endothelium local to the site of inflammation – involving margination and adhesion to the endothelial cells: Recruitment of leukocytes is receptor-mediated. The products of inflammation, such as histamine, promote the immediate expression of P-selectin on endothelial cell surfaces. This receptor binds weakly to carbohydrate ligands on leukocyte surfaces and causes them to "roll" along the endothelial surface as bonds are made and broken. Cytokines from injured cells induce the expression of E-selectin on endothelial cells, which functions similarly to P-selectin. Cytokines also induce the expression of integrin ligands on endothelial cells, which further slow leukocytes down. These weakly bound leukocytes are free to detach if not activated by chemokines produced in injured tissue. Activation increases the affinity of bound integrin receptors for ligands on the endothelial cell surface, firmly binding the leukocytes to the endothelium.
  2. Migration across the endothelium, known as transmigration, via the process of diapedesis: Chemokine gradients stimulate the adhered leukocytes to move between endothelial cells and pass the basement membrane into the tissues.
  3. Movement of leukocytes within the tissue via chemotaxis: Leukocytes reaching the tissue interstitium bind to extracellular matrix proteins via expressed integrins and CD44 to prevent their loss from the site. Chemoattractants cause the leukocytes to move along a chemotactic gradient towards the source of inflammation.


Cell derived mediators

* non-exhaustive list
Name Type Source Description
Lysosome granules Enzymes Granulocytes These cells contain a large variety of enzymes which perform a number of functions. Granules can be classified as either specific or azurophilic depending upon the contents, and are able to break down a number of substances, some of which may be plasma-derived proteins which allow these enzymes to act as inflammatory mediators.
Histamine Vasoactive amine Mast cells, basophils, platelets Stored in preformed granules, histamine is released in response to a number of stimuli. It causes arteriole dilation and increased venous permeability.
IFN-γ Cytokine T-cells, NK cells Antiviral, immunoregulatory, and anti-tumour properties. This interferon was originally called macrophage-activating factor, and is especially important in the maintenance of chronic inflammation.
IL-8 Chemokine Primarily macrophages Activation and chemoattraction of neutrophils, with a weak effect on monocytes and eosinophils.
Leukotriene B4 Eicosanoid Leukocytes Able to mediate leukocyte adhesion and activation, allowing them to bind to the endothelium and migrate across it. In neutrophils, it is also a potent chemoattractant, and is able to induce the formation of reactive oxygen species and the release of lysosome enzymes by these cells.
Nitric oxide Soluble gas Macrophages, endothelial cells, some neurons Potent vasodilator, relaxes smooth muscle, reduces platelet aggregation, aids in leukocyte recruitment, direct antimicrobial activity in high concentrations.
Prostaglandins Eicosanoid Mast cells A group of lipids which can cause vasodilation, fever, and pain.
TNF-α and IL-1 Cytokines Primarily macrophages Both affect a wide variety of cells to induce many similar inflammatory reactions: fever, production of cytokines, endothelial gene regulation, chemotaxis, leukocyte adherence, activation of fibroblasts. Responsible for the systemic effects of inflammation, such as loss of appetite and increased heart rate.


Morphologic patterns

Specific patterns of acute and chronic inflammation are seen during particular situations that arise in the body, such as when inflammation occurs on an epithelial surface, or pyogenic bacteria are involved.
  • Granulomatous inflammation: Characterised by the formation of granulomas, they are the result of a limited but diverse number of diseases, which include among others tuberculosis, leprosy, and syphilis.
  • Fibrinous inflammation: Inflammation resulting in a large increase in vascular permeability allows fibrin to pass through the blood vessels. If an appropriate procoagulative stimulus is present, such as cancer cells, a fibrinous exudate is deposited. This is commonly seen in serous cavities, where the conversion of fibrinous exudate into a scar can occur between serous membranes, limiting their function.
  • Purulent inflammation: Inflammation resulting in large amount of pus, which consists of neutrophils, dead cells, and fluid. Infection by pyogenic bacteria such as staphylococci is characteristic of this kind of inflammation. Large, localised collections of pus enclosed by surrounding tissues are called abscesses.
  • Serous inflammation: Characterised by the copious effusion of non-viscous serous fluid, commonly produced by mesothelial cells of serous membranes, but may be derived from blood plasma. Skin blisters exemplify this pattern of inflammation.
  • Ulcerative inflammation: Inflammation occurring near an epithelium can result in the necrotic loss of tissue from the surface, exposing lower layers. The subsequent excavation in the epithelium is known as an ulcer.


Inflammatory disorders

Abnormalities associated with inflammation comprise a large, officially unrelated group of disorders which underlie a vast variety of human diseases. The immune system is often involved with inflammatory disorders, demonstrated in both allergic reactions and some myopathies, with many immune system disorders resulting in abnormal inflammation. Non-immune diseases with etiological origins in inflammatory processes are thought to include cancer, atherosclerosis, and ischaemic heart disease.

A large variety of proteins are involved in inflammation, and any one of them is open to a genetic mutation which impairs or otherwise dysregulates the normal function and expression of that protein.

Examples of disorders associated with inflammation include:

Allergies

An allergic reaction, formally known as type 1 hypersensitivity, is the result of an inappropriate immune response triggering inflammation. A common example is hay fever, which is caused by a hypersensitive response by skin mast cells to allergens. Pre-sensitised mast cells respond by degranulating, releasing vasoactive chemicals such as histamine. These chemicals propagate an excessive inflammatory response characterised by blood vessel dilation, production of pro-inflammatory molecules, cytokine release, and recruitment of leukocytes. Severe inflammatory response may mature into a systemic response known as anaphylaxis.

Other hypersensitivity reactions (type 2 and type 3) are mediated by antibody reactions and induce inflammation by attracting leukocytes which damage surrounding tissue.bjiun ijij

Myopathies

Inflammatory myopathies are caused by the immune system inappropriately attacking components of muscle, leading to signs of muscle inflammation. They may occur in conjunction with other immune disorders, such as systemic sclerosis, and include dermatomyositis, polymyositis, and inclusion body myositis.

Leukocyte defects

Due to the central role of leukocytes in the development and propagation of inflammation, defects in leukocyte function often result in a decreased capacity for inflammatory defense with subsequent vulnerability to infection. Dysfunctional leukocytes may be unable to correctly bind to blood vessels due to surface receptor mutations, digest bacteria (Chediak-Higashi syndrome), or produce microbicides (chronic granulomatous disease). Additionally, diseases affecting the bone marrow may result in abnormal or few leukocytes.

Pharmacological

Certain drugs or exogenic chemical compounds are known to affect inflammation. Vitamin A deficiency causes an increase in inflammatory responses, and anti-inflammatory drugs work specifically by inhibiting normal inflammatory components.

Cancer

Inflammation orchestrates the microenvironment around tumours, contributing to proliferation, survival and migration. Cancer cells use selectins, chemokines and their receptors for invasion, migration and metastasis. On the other hand, many cells of the immune system contribute to cancer immunology, suppressing cancer.

Termination

The inflammatory response must be actively terminated when no longer needed to prevent unnecessary "bystander" damage to tissues. Failure to do so results in chronic inflammation, cellular destruction, and attempts to heal the inflamed tissue. One intrinsic mechanism employed to terminate inflammation is the short half-life of inflammatory mediators in vivo. They have a limited time frame to affect their target before breaking down into non-functional components, therefore constant inflammatory stimulation is needed to propagate their effects.

Active mechanisms which serve to terminate inflammation include:

Systemic effects

An infectious organism can escape the confines of the immediate tissue via the circulatory system or lymphatic system, where it may spread to other parts of the body. If an organism is not contained by the actions of acute inflammation it may gain access to the lymphatic system via nearby lymph vessels. An infection of the lymph vessels is known as lymphangitis, and infection of a lymph node is known as lymphadenitis. A pathogen can gain access to the bloodstream through lymphatic drainage into the circulatory system.

When inflammation overwhelms the host, systemic inflammatory response syndrome is diagnosed. When it is due to infection, the term sepsis is applied, with bacteremia being applied specifically for bacterial sepsis and viremia specifically to viral sepsis. Vasodilation and organ dysfunction are serious problems associated with widespread infection that may lead to septic shock and death.

Acute-phase proteins

Inflammation also induces high systemic levels of acute-phase proteins. In acute inflammation, these proteins prove beneficial, however in chronic inflammation they can contribute to amyloidosis. These proteins include C-reactive protein, serum amyloid A, and serum amyloid P, vasopressin, which cause a range of systemic effects including:

Leukocyte numbers

Inflammation often affects the numbers of leukocytes present in the body:
  • Leukocytosis is often seen during inflammation induced by infection, where it results in a large increase in the amount of leukocytes in the blood, especially immature cells. Leukocyte numbers usually increase to between 15 000 and 20 000 cells per ml, but extreme cases can see it approach 100 000 cells per ml. Bacterial infection usually results in an increase of neutrophils, creating neutrophilia, whereas diseases such as asthma, hay fever, and parasite infestation result in an increase in eosinophils, creating eosinophilia.
  • Leukopenia can be induced by certain infections and diseases, including viral infection, Rickettsia infection, some protozoa, tuberculosis, and some cancers.


Systemic inflammation and obesity

With the discovery of interleukins (IL), the concept of systemic inflammation developed. Although the processes involved are identical to tissue inflammation, systemic inflammation is not confined to a particular tissue but involves the endothelium and other organ systems.

High levels of several inflammation-related markers such as IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α are associated with obesity. During clinical studies, inflammatory-related molecule levels were reduced and increased levels of anti-inflammatory molecules were seen within four weeks after patients began a very low calorie diet. The association of systemic inflammation with insulin resistance and atherosclerosis is the subject of intenseresearch.

Outcomes

Scars present on the skin, evidence of fibrosis and healing of a wound
The outcome in a particular circumstance will be determined by the tissue in which the injury has occurred and the injurious agent that is causing it. Here are the possible outcomes to inflammation:

  1. Resolution
    The complete restoration of the inflamed tissue back to a normal status.

    Inflammatory measures such as vasodilation, chemical production, and leukocyte infiltration cease, and damaged parenchymal cells regenerate.

    In situations where limited or short lived inflammation has occurred this is usually the outcome.
  2. Fibrosis
    Large amounts of tissue destruction, or damage in tissues unable to regenerate, can not be regenerated completely by the body.

    Fibrous scarring occurs in these areas of damage, forming a scar composed primarily of collagen.

    The scar will not contain any specialized structures, such as parenchymal cells, hence functional impairment may occur.
  3. Abscess Formation
    A cavity is formed containing pus, an opaque liquid containing dead white blood cells and bacteria with general debris from destroyed cells.
  4. Chronic inflammation
    In acute inflammation, if the injurious agent persists then chronic inflammation will ensue.

    This process, marked by inflammation lasting many days, months or even years, may lead to the formation of a chronic wound.

    Chronic inflammation is characterised by the dominating presence of macrophages in the injured tissue.

    These cells are powerful defensive agents of the body, but the toxins they release (including reactive oxygen species) are injurious to the organism's own tissues as well as invading agents.

    Consequently, chronic inflammation is almost always accompanied by tissue destruction.


Examples

Inflammation is usually indicated by adding the suffix "-itis", as shown below. However, some conditions such as asthma and pneumonia do not follow this convention. More examples are available at list of types of inflammation.

Image:Acute_Appendicitis.jpg|Acute appendicitis
Image:Dermatitis.jpg|Acute dermatitis
Image:Streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis, gross pathology 33 lores.jpg|Acute infective meningitis
Image:Tonsillitis.jpg|Acute tonsillitis


See also



References

  1. Stedman's Medical Dictionary, Twenty-fifth Edition, Williams & Wilkins, 1990.
  2. Disturbance of function (functio laesa): the legendary fifth cardinal sign of inflammation, added by Galen to the four cardinal signs of Celsus. Bull N Y Acad Med. 1971 March; 47(3): 303–322


Further reading

Kyriakis JM, Avruch J. Sounding the alarm: protein kinase cascades activated by stress and inflammation. J Biol Chem. 1996 Oct 4;271(40):24313-6. Review. PMID: 8798679

Salminen A, Kauppinen A, Suuronen T, Kaarniranta K. SIRT1 longevity factor suppresses NF-kappaB -driven immune responses: regulation of aging via NF-kappaB acetylation? Bioessays. 2008 Oct;30(10):939-42.

Rangan G, Wang Y, Harris D. NF-kappaB signalling in chronic kidney disease. Front Biosci. 2009 Jan 1;14:3496-522. Review. PMID: 19273289

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