Hematologic and immunophenotypic factors associated with development of Rhodococcus equi pneumonia of foals at equine breeding farms with endemic infection
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Rhodococcus equi causes severe pyogranulomatous pneumonia in foals and in immunocompromised people. In mice, both CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes contribute to host defense against R. equi, but CD4+ T lymphocytes are required for pulmonary clearance of the bacteria. In this prospective study of 208 foals at two equine breeding farms with endemic R. equi infections, we collected peripheral blood samples at 2 and 4 weeks of age and at the time of diagnosis of R. equi pneumonia. Samples were analyzed for concentrations of total and differential leukocytes, EqCD4+ and EqCD8+ T lymphocytes, and B lymphocytes. Thirty (14.4%) foals developed R. equi pneumonia. At the 2nd week of life, affected foals had significantly lower concentrations of white blood cells (WBC) and segmented neutrophils, significantly lower proportions of EqCD4+ T lymphocytes, and significantly higher proportions of EqCD8+ T lymphocytes. The EqCD4:EqCD8 ratio was significantly lower for affected foals. At the 4th week of life, affected foals had significantly lower concentrations of segmented neutrophils and EqCD4+ T lymphocytes than did unaffected foals. The ratio of EqCD4:EqCD8 was significantly lower for affected foals. Two- and 4-week-old foals with ratios of EqCD4:EqCD8<3 were significantly more likely to develop R. equi pneumonia. There was a significant farm effect which diluted our statistical power to detect differences; however; after adjusting for the farm effect, 2-week-old foals with ratios of EqCD4:EqCD8<3 remained significantly more likely to develop R. equi pneumonia. There were no significant differences in immunophenotypic variables between affected foals (at the time of diagnosis) and age-matched control foals. These data suggest that there are hematologic and immunophenotypic differences between affected and unaffected foals during the first 2-4 weeks of life, prior to onset of clinical signs of R. equi pneumonia. These differences may represent important immunologic mechanisms associated with increased susceptibility of individual foals to infection with R. equi. Because there was considerable overlap between values for affected and unaffected foals, we cannot yet recommend immunophenotyping of foals at endemically-infected farms as a clinically useful screening tool to identify foals at increased risk of developing R. equi pneumonia.
author list (cited authors)
Chaffin, M. K., Cohen, N. D., Martens, R. J., Edwards, R. F., Nevill, M., & Smith, R.