Although a burst of immunoresponsiveness may occur during the early stage of sepsis, late sepsis is characterized by severe immunodepression. In addition, although studies have shown that stimulation of macrophage β-adrenoceptors results in an increase in cAMP and an associated reduction in macrophage phagocytic activity, it remains unknown whether Kupffer cell β-adrenoceptor characteristics and cAMP levels are altered during polymicrobial sepsis. To study this, Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to sepsis by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP). At 5 h (i.e., the early stage of sepsis) or 20 h (late sepsis) after CLP or sham operation, the liver was perfused with collagenase solution and Kupffer cells were isolated. β-Adrenoceptor characteristics of the isolated Kupffer cells were determined using [125I]iodopindolol, and basal levels of cAMP were measured by radioimmunoassay. The results indicate that while maximum binding capacity (B(max)) of Kupffer cell β-adrenoceptors was not altered at 5 h, it increased significantly at 20 h after CLP. Similarly, basal levels of cAMP in Kupffer cells did not change at 5 h but increased markedly at 20 h after the onset of sepsis. In contrast, the dissociation constant (K(d), 1/affinity) of Kupffer cell β-adrenoceptors was not significantly affected by sepsis at both 5 h and 20 h after CLP. Thus, upregulation of β-adrenoceptors and increase in cAMP levels in Kupffer cells occur during the late stage of polymicrobial sepsis, and this may contribute to the depression of macrophage phagocytic function under such conditions. Copyright (C) 1998 Elsevier Science B.V.