A non-linear mixed effect model for innate immune response: In vivo kinetics of endotoxin and its induction of the cytokines tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin-6

Endotoxin, a component of the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria, has been extensively studied as a stimulator of the innate immune response. However, the temporal aspects and exposure-response relationship of endotoxin and resulting cytokine induction and tolerance development is less well defined. The aim of this work was to establish an in silico model that simultaneously captures and connects the in vivo time-courses of endotoxin, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and associated tolerance development. Data from six studies of porcine endotoxemia in anesthetized piglets (n = 116) were combined and used in the analysis, with purified endotoxin (Escherichia coli O111:B4) being infused intravenously for 1–30 h in rates of 0.063–16.0 μg/kg/h across studies. All data were modelled simultaneously by means of importance sampling in the non-linear mixed effects modelling software NONMEM. The infused endotoxin followed one-compartment disposition and non-linear elimination, and stimulated the production of TNF-α to describe the rapid increase in plasma concentration. Tolerance development, observed as declining TNF-α concentration with continued infusion of endotoxin, was also driven by endotoxin as a concentration-dependent increase in the potency parameter related to TNF-α production (EC50). Production of IL-6 was stimulated by both endotoxin and TNF-α, and four consecutive transit compartments described delayed increase in plasma IL-6. A model which simultaneously account for the time-courses of endotoxin and two immune response markers, the cytokines TNF-α and IL-6, as well as the development of endotoxin tolerance, was successfully established. This model-based approach is unique in its description of the time-courses and their interrelation and may be applied within research on immune response to bacterial endotoxin, or in pre-clinical pharmaceutical research when dealing with study design or translational aspects.