Post-therapeutic follow-up is essential to confirm cure and to detect early treatment failures in patients affected by sleeping sickness (HAT). Current methods, based on finding of parasites in blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and counting of white blood cells (WBC) in CSF, are imperfect. New markers for treatment outcome evaluation are needed. We hypothesized that alternative CSF markers, able to diagnose the meningo-encephalitic stage of the disease, could also be useful for the evaluation of treatment outcome.
Cerebrospinal fluid from patients affected by Trypanosoma brucei gambiense HAT and followed for two years after treatment was investigated. The population comprised stage 2 (S2) patients either cured or experiencing treatment failure during the follow-up. IgM, neopterin, B2MG, MMP-9, ICAM-1, VCAM-1, CXCL10 and CXCL13 were first screened on a small number of HAT patients (n = 97). Neopterin and CXCL13 showed the highest accuracy in discriminating between S2 cured and S2 relapsed patients (AUC 99% and 94%, respectively). When verified on a larger cohort (n = 242), neopterin resulted to be the most efficient predictor of outcome. High levels of this molecule before treatment were already associated with an increased risk of treatment failure. At six months after treatment, neopterin discriminated between cured and relapsed S2 patients with 87% specificity and 92% sensitivity, showing a higher accuracy than white blood cell numbers.
In the present study, neopterin was highlighted as a useful marker for the evaluation of the post-therapeutic outcome in patients suffering from sleeping sickness. Detectable levels of this marker in the CSF have the potential to shorten the follow-up for HAT patients to six months after the end of the treatment.
The reduction of the number of lumbar punctures performed during the follow-up of patients affected by sleeping sickness (HAT) is considered a research priority. Follow-up, consisting of the examination of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for presence of parasites and for the number of leukocytes, is necessary to assess treatment outcome. However, diagnosis of treatment failure is still imperfect and WHO encourages improvements in defining criteria. Many studies have attempted to standardize actual methods and to define a cut-off for the number of white blood cells in CSF to define relapses, while only few have proposed alternatives to current practice. Here we show that neopterin, already proven to be a powerful marker for staging T. b. gambiense HAT, is also useful in evaluating post-therapeutic outcome. The measurement of neopterin concentration in CSF during the follow-up may allow reduction in the number of lumbar punctures from five to three for the majority of cured patients.