Aims: The occurrence of human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) in a patient with chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML) provided an opportunity to study whether Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the aetiological agent of HGE, infects mature or immature cells, both in vivo and in vitro.
Methods: Diagnosis of HGE was confirmed by culture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), detection of intragranulocytic inclusions, and serology. The infection rates of different myelogenous stages of granulocytic differentiation were determined by microscopy. Anaplasma phagocytophilum infection of the bone marrow was analysed by PCR, culture, and microscopy. In addition, the in vitro growth of A phagocytophilum in the patient’s granulocytes and in HL-60 cells (a promyelocytic leukaemia cell line) was compared.
Results: Pretreatment blood smears showed that mature granulocytic cells had a higher infection rate with A phagocytophilum than did immature cells. In the original inoculation of the patient’s cells into HL-60 cells to isolate A phagocytophilum, the bacterium grew faster in the patient’s leukaemic cells than in HL-60 cells. Anaplasma phagocytophilum inclusions were rarely seen in bone marrow granulocytes and PCR was negative. In vitro, two A phagocytophilum isolates grew faster in the patient’s granulocytes than in HL-60 cells.
Conclusions: The superior growth in CML cells compared with HL-60 cells suggests that A phagocytophilum preferentially infects mature granulocytes. The higher infection rate of the patient’s mature versus immature granulocytes before treatment and the minimal level of infection of the patient’s bone marrow support this. It is possible that the primary site of infection in HGE is the peripheral mature granulocytic population.