Traumatic injury is associated with reduced deoxyribonuclease activity and dysregulation of the actin scavenging system

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Background: Traumatic injury is associated with increased concentrations of cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in the circulation, which contribute to post-injury complications. The endonuclease deoxyribonuclease 1 (DNase-1) is responsible for removing 90% of circulating cfDNA. Recently, DNase activity was reported to be significantly reduced following major non-traumatic brain injury (TBI), but the processes responsible were not investigated. Moreover, it is not known how quickly following injury DNase activity is reduced and whether this also occurs after TBI.

Methods: At 3 post-injury time points (≤1, 4–12 and 48–72 hours), blood samples were obtained from 155 adult trauma patients that had sustained an isolated TBI (n = 21), TBI with accompanying extracranial injury (TBI+) (n = 53) or an extracranial injury only (ECI) (n = 81). In addition to measuring cfDNA levels and the activity and expression of DNase, circulating concentrations of monomeric globular action (G-actin), an inhibitor of DNase-1, and the actin scavenging proteins gelsolin (GSN) and vitamin D binding protein (VDBP) were determined and values compared to a cohort of healthy controls.

Results: Significantly elevated concentrations of plasma cfDNA were seen in TBI, TBI+ and ECI patients at all study time points when compared to healthy controls. cfDNA levels were significantly higher at ≤1 hour post-injury in ECI patients who subsequently developed multiple organ dysfunction syndrome when compared to those who did not. Plasma DNase-1 protein was significantly elevated in all patient groups at all sampling time points. In contrast, DNase enzyme activity was significantly reduced, with this impaired function evident in TBI+ patients within minutes of injury. Circulating concentrations of G-actin were elevated in all patient cohorts in the immediate aftermath of injury and this was accompanied by a significant reduction in the levels of GSN and VDBP.

Conclusions: The post-traumatic increase in circulating cfDNA that occurs following extracranial trauma and TBI is accompanied by reduced DNase activity. We propose that, secondary to reduced GSN and VDBP levels, elevated circulating concentrations of G-actin underlie the post-injury reduction in DNase activity. Reducing circulating cfDNA levels via therapeutic restoration of DNase-1 activity may improve clinical outcomes post-injury.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbertkab001
Number of pages15
JournalBurns & Trauma
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.


  • Cell-free DNA
  • Deoxyribonuclease
  • Extracellular actin scavenging system
  • Pre-hospital
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Dermatology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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