This study describes the comparison of the cell-based interferon-gamma (IFNγ) test with serological rapid antibody tests (STAT-PAK and DPP VetTB) for the ante mortem testing of tuberculosis in domestic cats. The antibody specificities of rapid antibody test-positive cats were further discerned using multi-antigen print immunoassay. A total of 62 cats with culture-confirmed Mycobacterium bovis, Mycobacterium microti, Mycobacterium avium and Mycobacterium malmoense, as well as negative controls and dangerous-contact cats were tested. Tests were also applied longitudinally to one further cat undergoing TB chemotherapy for suspected M. bovis infection. Our data from this small study show excellent test specificity (100% for all tests) and encouraging levels of test sensitivity for M. bovis and TB Complex infections (IFNγ 70-100% depending upon test interpretation criteria; rapid tests both 90% for M. bovis infection and up to 46.2% for M. microti infection). The differential diagnosis of very pathogenic TB Complex (M. bovis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis), as opposed to less-pathogenic TB Complex (M. microti) was possible where positive responses to the protein cocktail ESAT6/CFP10 were observed (80% of M. bovis-infected cats in this study showed positive IFNγ responses to ESAT6/CFP10, while 20% had antibody responses to ESAT6/CFP10 using MAPIA). Finally, preliminary data from a longitudinal study of one M. bovis-exposed cat with a positive IFNγ test pre-treatment suggest that a decrease in bacterial burden may be reflected in the IFNγ response, and thus the IFNγ test may provide a monitor for TB chemotherapy.
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