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Clin Microbiol Infect. 2014 Jul;20(7):642-50. doi: 10.1111/1469-0691.12423. Epub 2013 Nov 18.

A combination of interferon-gamma and interleukin-2 production by Coxiella burnetii-stimulated circulating cells discriminates between chronic Q fever and past Q fever.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, and Nijmegen Institute for Infection, Inflammation and Immunity (N4i), Nijmegen, the Netherlands.


Infection with Coxiella burnetii may lead to life-threatening chronic Q fever endocarditis or vascular infections, which are often difficult to diagnose. The present study aims to investigate whether measurement of in-vitro interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) production, a key cytokine in the immune response against C. burnetii, differentiates chronic from a past cleared infection, and whether measurement of other cytokines would improve the discriminative power. First, C. burnetii-specific IFN-γ production was measured in whole blood of 28 definite chronic Q fever patients and compared with 135 individuals with past Q fever (seropositive controls) and 908 seronegative controls. IFN-γ production was significantly higher in chronic Q fever patients than in controls, but with overlapping values between patients and seropositives. Secondly, the production of a series of other cytokines was measured in a subset of patients and controls, which showed that interleukin (IL)-2 production was significantly lower in patients than in seropositive controls. Subsequently, measuring IL-2 in all patients and all controls with substantial IFN-γ production showed that an IFN-γ/IL-2 ratio >11 had a sensitivity and specificity of 79% and 96%, respectively, to diagnose chronic Q fever. This indicates that a high IFN-γ/IL-2 ratio is highly suggestive for chronic Q fever. In an additional group of 25 individuals with persistent high anti-Coxiella phase I IgG titres without definite chronic infection, all but six showed an IFN-γ/IL-2 ratio <11. In conclusion, these findings hold promise for the often difficult diagnostic work-up of Q fever and the IFN-γ/IL-2 ratio may be used as an additional diagnostic marker.


Chronic Q fever; Coxiella burnetii; cytokines; diagnosis; interferon-gamma; interleukin-2

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