Role of Endotoxins


What is the importance of bacterial endotoxins and why is it important to test for endotoxins?

Endotoxins are high-molecular complexes that lead to a pyrogenic reaction when released and in contact with the immune system.1 There are various endotoxins but lipopolysaccharide (LPS) anchored in the outer layer of the cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria plays a central role in medicine. It triggers very strong cellular and immunological reactions compared to other bacterial endotoxins.

The importance of endotoxins is shown clinically e.g. when a patient is infected with the gram-negative bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, the cause of meningitidis. During the growth and lysis of the bacteria, endotoxin is released and consequently a whole range of physiological effects such as fever, septic shock and hyperimmune reactions can take place.2

In everyday life, people are constantly in contact with endotoxins (e.g. through food intake). This contact is particularly critical, however, when the immune system is directly exposed, for example in medical applications (parenteral application, medical implants, dialysis or surgery) or in the case of chronic exposure in the work environment (dermal or inhalation). As there is a particularly high sensitivity especially in medical applications, the release test for pyrogens or endotoxins is mandatory according to pharmacopoeia (more information on our endotoxin services).3


1. Dinarello, C. A. Infection, fever, and exogenous and endogenous pyrogens: some concepts have changed. J. Endotoxin Res. 10, 201–222 (2004).

2. Coureuil, M. et al. Pathogenesis of meningococcemia. Cold Spring Harb. Perspect. Med. 3, (2013).

3.  EUROPEAN PHARMACOPOEIA 2.6.14. Bacterial endotoxins.