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Unlocking the cause of UTI-induced delirium

Cedars-Sinai researchers have found that blocking the action of a protein called interleukin 6 (IL-6), part of the immune system, could resolve the delirium that often accompanies urinary tract infection (UTI) in elderly patients. Their study in laboratory mice, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, could pave the way for clinical trials of IL-6 inhibitors as a treatment for UTI-associated delirium in humans.

Older women are among the most susceptible to developing UTIs, an infection of the bladder and urethra that causes urinary urgency and pain. UTIs also can cause delirium in older people, resulting in a sharp decline in mental abilities that triggers disoriented thinking. "Up to one-third of elderly patients hospitalized with UTIs can experience some degree of confusion and reduced awareness of their surroundings," said Shouri Lahiri, MD, director of the Neurosciences Critical Care Unit and Neurocritical Care Research at Cedars-Sinai and senior author of the study. "Delirium affects millions of patients a year in the U.S., contributing to longer hospital stays, long-term cognitive problems and increased mortality. Delirium can be a tipping point from which patients never fully recover. This is well established. What is less well established is why this is happening." To better understand the specific biological mechanisms behind UTI-associated delirium, Lahiri and colleagues observed laboratory mice with and without UTIs in specially designed mazes. In an arena where the animals could move about freely, uninfected mice spent more time in the center of the chamber. Those with UTIs huddled in the periphery, suggesting they had higher levels of anxiety, a common symptom of delirium.

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