The conventional view in severe sepsis or septic shock is that most of the lactate that accumulates in the circulation is due to cellular hypoxia and the onset of anaerobic glycolysis. A number of papers have suggested that lactate formation during sepsis is not due to hypoxia. I discuss this hypothesis and outline the recent advances in the understanding of lactate metabolism in shock.

Numerous experimental data have demonstrated that stimulation of aerobic glycolysis - that is, glycolysis not attributable to oxygen deficiency - and glycogenolysis occurs not only in resting, well-oxygenated skeletal muscles but also during experimental haemorrhagic shock and experimental sepsis, and is closely linked to stimulation of sarcolemmal Na+/K+ -ATPase under epinephrine stimulation. A human study of hyperkinetic septic shock demonstrated that skeletal muscle is a leading source of lactate production by exaggerated aerobic glycolysis through Na+/K+ -ATPase stimulation.

There is increasing evidence that sepsis is accompanied by a hypermetabolic state, with enhanced glycolysis and hyperlactataemia. This should not be rigorously interpreted as an indication of hypoxia. It now appears, at least in the hyperkinetic state, that increased lactate production and concentration as a result of hypoxia are often the exception rather than the rule.