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Prompt diagnosis of central nervous system (CNS) disease is critical to guide intervention and appropriate therapy. Development of novel laboratory approaches to rapidly classify acute-onset CNS disease is in great demand. Serious microbial pathogens, especially viruses, are quickly expanding beyond their historic geographic range and may not even be considered in the clinician’s differential diagnosis. Unlike bacterial cultures, current viral testing targets a limited number of viruses. Additionally, despite diversity in etiology, signs and symptoms of both infectious and non-infectious CNS disorders can be remarkably similar, which can confuse the clinical picture and delay treatment. Bacterial, viral, fungal and protozoan CNS pathogens are sensed by pattern recognition receptors of the immune system, stimulating immediate release of measurable levels of chemokines and cytokines into the CSF. Our objective is to use pathogen-specific chemokine/ cytokine profiles to classify CNS disease as infectious versus non-infectious and further discriminate between viral and non-viral infections.


Levels (pg/ml) of chemokines and cytokines were determined in the CSF of 45 patients with documented infectious meningitis or meningoencephalitis (mean age 19.2 years) and in the CSF of 25 patients who were negative for CNS infection (mean age 27.4 years). MILLIPLEX MAP Human Cytokine/Chemokine Magnetic Bead Panels (Millipore) were used to measure CSF chemokines and cytokines levels (pg/ml). Innate immune analytes quantified included IP-10 (CXCL10), IFNg, IL-15, MDC (CCL22), MCP-1 (CCL2), Fractalkine, and FLT3L. Samples were analyzed in duplicate by a FlexMAP 3D (Luminex). Standard curves were generated for each cytokine and median fluorescent intensities were transformed into concentrations by 5-point, non-linear regression. For univariate analysis, comparisons between groups were made using the Mann-Whitney test. We utilized receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis to calculate areas under the ROC curve (AUC) for each analyte to access the utility of chemokine/cytokine levels as discriminating tests. The ROC generated sensitivity and specificity values were then used to determine clinically optimal cutoff values for the informative analytes.


Univariate analysis utilizing Mann-Whitney tests demonstrated that median values (pg/ml) of IP-10 (CXCL10), IFNg, IL-15, MDC (CCL22), MDC (CCL22), MCP-1 (CCL2), Fractalkine, and FLT3L were all significantly higher in CSF from patients with infectious brain disorders than in CSF from patients with non-infectious disorders (p-value < 0.05). MDC (CCL22) demonstrated statistical significance, when comparing viral infections versus non-viral infections (with the non-viral infection group having higher analyte levels). IP10 (CXCL10) can reliably distinguish between an infectious versus non-infectious CNS process (AUC 0.9778) with an optimal cut-off value of 2023 pg/ml (sensitivity, specificity; 93.0%, 92.0%). In the infectious group, MDC (CCL22) can reliably differentiate between viral and non-viral CNS infection (AUC 0.9545) with an optimal cut-off value of 194 pg/ml (sensitivity, specificity; 91.67%, 87.88%).


CSF levels (pg/ml) of IP-10 (CXCL10) can reliably distinguish infectious versus noninfectious CNS disorders, and in the infectious group, MDC (CCL22) can reliably distinguish between viral and non-viral CNS infections. These results suggest that CSF chemokine/cytokine quantification can serve as a useful laboratory tool for the rapid triage of CNS diseases to help guide prompt therapy and further testing.