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

R. S. Davies, J. E. Madigan, E. Hodzic, D. L. Borjesson, J. S. Dumler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1962-1968
Number of pages7
JournalClinical and Vaccine Immunology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Microbiology (medical)


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