This finding, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains the premature mental aging that follows septic shock and may shed light on memory loss in other diseases.
"This sugar is getting into the hippocampus, and it shouldn't be in there," said Robert Linhardt, professor of biocatalysis and metabolic engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and lead author of the study.
Sepsis is a systemic infection of the body.
One-third of patients admitted to hospitals with sepsis go into septic shock.
In a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, a team that included Schmidt and Linhardt developed a simple but accurate test for determining whether patients in septic shock would recover or die.
The test uses a urine sample to check concentrations of a type of sugar - glycosaminoglycans - that ordinarily coat cells lining blood vessels and other surfaces inside the body.