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Clin Vaccine Immunol. 2011 Nov;18(11):1962-8. doi: 10.1128/CVI.05034-11. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

Dexamethasone-induced cytokine changes associated with diminished disease severity in horses infected with Anaplasma phagocytophilum.

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Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, California, USA.


Anaplasma phagocytophilum is the zoonotic cause of granulocytic anaplasmosis. We hypothesized that immune response, specifically gamma interferon (IFN-γ), plays a role in disease severity. To test this, horses were infected and IFNG expression was pharmacologically downregulated using corticosteroids. Eight horses were infected with A. phagocytophilum; 4 received dexamethasone on days 4 to 8 of infection. Clinical signs, hematologic parameters, and transcription of cytokine/chemokine genes were compared among treated and untreated horses. Infection was quantitated by msp2 real-time PCR and microscopy. As anticipated, there was significantly greater leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, and anemia in infected versus uninfected horses. The A. phagocytophilum load was higher for dexamethasone-treated horses. Dexamethasone reduced IFNG transcription by day 12 and IL-8 and IL-18 by days 7 to 9 and increased IL-4 on day 7. The ratio of IL-10 to IFNG was increased by dexamethasone on day 9. There were no hematologic differences between the infected horses. Dexamethasone suppression of proinflammatory response resulted in delayed infection-induced limb edema and decreased icterus, anorexia, and reluctance to move between days 6 and 9 and lower fever on day 7. These results underscore the utility of the equine model of granulocytic anaplasmosis and suggest that Th1 proinflammatory response plays a role in worsening disease severity and that disease severity can be decreased by modulating proinflammatory response. A role for Th1 response and macrophage activation in hematologic derangements elicited by A. phagocytophilum is not supported by these data and remains unproven.

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