Cytokine expression in Treponema pallidum infection
Background. Current syphilis tests cannot distinguish between active and past syphilis among patients with serofast rapid plasma reagin (RPR) titers. We investigated whether cytokine profiles might provide insight in the differentiation of active and treated syphilis. Methods. We collected quarterly serum samples from participants at risk for incident syphilis in a prospective cohort study of men and male-to-female transgender women. We defined incident syphilis as a new RPR titer1:8 or a fourfold increase from a prior RPR titer and a positive Treponema pallidum particle agglutination assay. We measured cytokine expression using a 63-multiplex bead-based Luminex assay (eBiosciences/Affymetrix, San Diego, California, USA). We used tertile bins and Chi square tests to identify differences in proportions of cytokines between samples from patients with active and treated syphilis. We constructed a network of cytokine profiles from those findings. We used R software (R version 3.4.1, R, Vienna, Austria) to fit models. Results. We identified 20 pairs of cytokines (out of 1953 possible pairs) that differed between active and treated syphilis. From those, we identified three cytokine networks of interest: an Eotaxin-Rantes-Leptin network, a Mig-IL1ra-Trail-CD40L network, and an IL12p40-IL12p70 network. Conclusions. Differences in cytokine profiles are present among men and male-to-female transgender women with active and treated syphilis. Cytokine assays may be a potentially useful tool for identifying active syphilis among patients with serologic syphilis reactivity.