Critical illness comprises a heterogeneous group of serious medical conditions that typically involve an initial proinflammatory process. A compensatory anti-inflammatory response may occur that, if severe and persistent, places the patient at high risk for adverse outcomes including secondary infection and death. Monitoring strategies can identify these patients through measurement of innate and adaptive immune function. Reductions in monocyte HLA-DR expression, reduced cytokine production capacity, increased inhibitory cell surface molecule expression, and lymphopenia have all been associated with this immune-suppressed state. Intriguing data suggest that critical illness–induced immune suppression may be reversible with agents such as interferon-γ, granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor, interleukin 7, or anti–programmed death-1 therapy. Future approaches for characterization of patient-specific immune derangements and individualized treatment could revolutionize how we recognize and prevent complications in critically ill patients.

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