Thrombocytopenia is a common finding in infection with equine infectious anaemia virus (EIAV), a lentivirus with some homology to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The thrombocytopenia of EIA, like that in some HIV patients, appears to have a multifactorial pathogenesis. To investigate the decreased platelet production seen in experimental EIA, the levels of three potential negative regulators of platelet production--tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) and interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha)--were measured in serum and bone marrow of six severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) foals and ten immunocompetent EIAV-infected foals. Levels of cytokines in pre-infection foal sera and bone marrow were compared with levels observed during clinical EIA. Mean serum levels of TNF-alpha and IFN-alpha were significantly higher (P < 0.05) on days -4 to 0 of thrombocytopenia than before infection. Serum TGF-beta was significantly elevated on all days except day -1 of thrombocytopenia. Bone marrow TNF-alpha levels were significantly increased in infected foals just before clinical thrombocytopenia. TGF-beta activity was not different in pre-infection and pre-thrombocytopenia bone marrows, but levels of TGF-beta protein as determined by immunohistochemical staining were significantly higher in pre-thrombocytopenia bone marrow. IFN-alpha activity in bone marrow increased just before thrombocytopenia, but the difference was not significant at P < 0.05. Serum TNF-alpha levels were 2-2.5 times higher in SCID foals on three of the days prior to thrombocytopenia than in immunocompetent foals. No significant differences were found between the levels in SCID and immunocompetent foals of serum and bone marrow TGF-beta or IFN-alpha at any of the times examined.


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