Effect of standard tuberculosis treatment on plasma cytokine levels in patients with active pulmonary tuberculosis

BACKGROUND: Sputum Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) culture is commonly used to assess response to antibiotic treatment in individuals with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). Such techniques are constrained by the slow growth rate of Mtb, and more sensitive methods to monitor Mtb clearance are needed. The goal of this study was to evaluate changes in plasma cytokines in patients undergoing treatment for TB as a means of identifying candidate host markers associated with microbiologic response to therapy. METHODS: Twenty-four plasma cytokines/chemokines were measured in 42 individuals diagnosed with active pulmonary TB, 52% were HIV co-infected. Individuals, undergoing a 26-week standard TB treatment, were followed longitudinally over 18 months and measurements were associated with HIV status and rates of sputum culture conversion. RESULTS: Plasma concentrations of interferon-inducible protein-10 (IP-10) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) were significantly reduced upon TB treatment, regardless of HIV status. By the end of treatment, IP-10 concentrations were significantly lower in HIV negative individuals when compared to HIV-positive individuals (p = 0.02). Moreover, in HIV negative patients, plasma VEGF concentrations, measured as early as 2-weeks post TB treatment initiation, positively correlated with the time of sputum conversion (p = 0.0017). No significant changes were observed in other studied immune mediators. CONCLUSIONS: These data suggest that VEGF plasma concentration, measured during early TB treatment, could represent a surrogate marker to monitor sputum culture conversion in HIV uninfected individuals.