From the Journals

Bacteremic sepsis in ALL linked to later cognitive issues



Bacteremic sepsis during acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treatment may contribute to neurocognitive dysfunction later in life, results of a cohort study suggest.


Pediatric ALL survivors who had sepsis while on treatment performed worse on measures of intelligence, attention, executive function, and processing speed than survivors with no sepsis history, according to study results.

Links between sepsis and impaired neurocognitive function found in this study have “practice-changing implications” for cancer survivors, investigators reported in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Prevention of infection, early recognition and appropriate management of sepsis, and preemptive neurocognitive interventions should be prioritized, because these might prevent or ameliorate neurologic damage,” said Joshua Wolf, MBBS, of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, and the coauthors of the report.

The study included 212 children who, at a median age of 5 years, had received risk-adapted chemotherapy for ALL with no hematopoietic cell transplant or cranial irradiation.

Sixteen of the patients (7.5%) had a history of bacteremic sepsis during ALL therapy, according to retrospectively obtained data.

As a part of the study, all participants participated in neurocognitive testing, which was done at a median of 7.7 years after diagnosis.

Patients with a history of bacteremic sepsis performed poorly on multiple measures of neurocognitive function, as compared with all other participants, according to results of analyses that were adjusted for multiple potentially confounding factors, such as age, race, and leukemia risk category.

Although not all neurocognitive measures were significantly different between groups, survivors with a sepsis history performed worse on evaluations of spatial planning (difference, 0.78; 95% confidence interval, 0.57-1.00), verbal fluency (0.38; 95% CI, 0.14-0.62), and attention (0.63; 95% CI, 0.30-0.95), among other measures, investigators said.

This is believed to be the first published study looking at potential links between sepsis during ALL treatment and long-term neurocognitive dysfunction, investigators said. However, similar observations have been made in other patient populations, they added.

Exactly how sepsis might lead to neurocognitive deficits remains unclear. “In the population of children with cancer, these mechanisms might be augmented by increased blood-brain barrier permeability to neurotoxic chemotherapy drugs,” they said in their report.

Further study is needed to look at potential brain injury mechanisms, and to validate the current findings in other ALL patient cohorts, they concluded.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. The researchers reported having no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Cheung YT et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2018 Sep 24. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2500.