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J Infect Dis. 1985 Dec;152(6):1283-9.

Cellular immunity in Q fever: specific lymphocyte unresponsiveness in Q fever endocarditis.


Human infection with the rickettsia Coxiella burnetii presents as acute influenza-like primary Q fever, subacute granulomatous hepatitis, or chronic endocarditis with hepatitis. To investigate whether persistent infection is associated with a possible immunologic defect, we tested lymphocyte proliferation specific for Coxiella in vitro in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients and controls. All four patients with endocarditis had profound lymphocyte unresponsiveness to Coxiella antigens with normal proliferation to control antigens. Hepatitis and primary Q fever were associated with vigorous responses in vitro to Coxiella antigens. Suppression of lymphocyte unresponsiveness was in part mediated by an antigen-nonspecific, glass-adherent cell. We hypothesize that specific T cell unresponsiveness is an important factor in persistent infection with C. burnetii and offer in vitro lymphocyte stimulation as a more specific diagnostic test to distinguish cases of endocarditis among those with chronic hepatitis due to Q fever.

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