Sepsis and the evolution of human increased sensitivity to lipopolysaccharide

Jessica F. Brinkworth, Negin Valizadegan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Among mammals, humans are exquisitely sensitive to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), an environmentally pervasive bacterial cell membrane component. Very small doses of LPS trigger powerful immune responses in humans and can even initiate symptoms of sepsis. Close evolutionary relatives such as African and Asian monkeys require doses that are an order of magnitude higher to do the same. Why humans have evolved such an energetically expensive antimicrobial strategy is a question that biological anthropologists are positioned to help address. Here we compare LPS sensitivity in primate/mammalian models and propose that human high sensitivity to LPS is adaptive, linked to multiple immune tactics against pathogens, and part of multi-faceted anti-microbial strategy that strongly overlaps with that of other mammals. We support a notion that LPS sensitivity in humans has been driven by microorganisms that constitutively live on us, and has been informed by human behavioral changes over our species' evolution (e.g., meat eating, agricultural practices, and smoking).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-157
Number of pages17
JournalEvolutionary anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • LPS sensitivity
  • human evolution
  • innate immunity
  • lipopolysaccharide
  • sepsis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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