Background: In the aftermath of the largest Q fever outbreak in the world, diagnosing the potentially lethal complication chronic Q fever remains challenging. PCR, Coxiella burnetii IgG phase I antibodies, CRP and 18F-FDG-PET/CT scan are used for diagnosis and monitoring in clinical practice. We aimed to identify and test biomarkers in order to improve discriminative power of the diagnostic tests and monitoring of chronic Q fever.
Methods: We performed a transcriptome analysis on C. burnetii stimulated PBMCs of 4 healthy controls and 6 chronic Q fever patients and identified genes that were most differentially expressed. The gene products were determined using Luminex technology in whole blood samples stimulated with heat-killed C. burnetii and serum samples from chronic Q fever patients and control subjects.
Results: Gene expression of the chemokines CXCL9, CXCL10, CXCL11 and CCL8 was strongly up-regulated in C. burnetii stimulated PBMCs of chronic Q fever patients, in contrast to healthy controls. In whole blood cultures of chronic Q fever patients, production of all four chemokines was increased upon C. burnetii stimulation, but also healthy controls and past Q fever individuals showed increased production of CXCL9, CXCL10 and CCL8. However, CXCL9 and CXCL11 production was significantly higher for chronic Q fever patients compared to past Q fever individuals. In addition, CXCL9 serum concentrations in chronic Q fever patients were higher than in past Q fever individuals.
Conclusion: CXCL9 protein, measured in serum or as C. burnetii stimulated production, is a promising biomarker for the diagnosis of chronic Q fever.
Keywords: Biomarker; CXCL9; Chemokines; Chronic Q fever; Coxiella burnetii.