© 2019 The Author(s). Background: Feline leishmaniosis caused by Leishmania infantum is considered a rare disease in endemic areas, whereas subclinical infections are common. Immune response plays a key role in driving the course of L. infantum infection in other host species; however, the feline cell-mediated immune response to L. infantum infection has not yet been investigated. The aim of this study was to determine the cell-mediated immune response specific to L. infantum by means of interferon (IFN)-γ release in whole blood assay from cats living in endemic areas (66 in Sicily and 113 in Catalonia) and to compare with antibody levels to L. infantum [enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and immunofluorescence antibody test (IFAT)], blood parasite load and retroviral infections. Results: Most cats (n = 140) were L. infantum antibody negative and only 22% (n = 39) were positive. Only 9 and 2% of tested cats had a feline immunodeficency virus (FIV) infection or a feline leukemia virus (FeLV) infection, respectively. Thirty-two cats out of 179 (18%) produced IFN-γ after stimulation with L. infantum soluble antigen (LSA) while the majority of cats (93%) produced IFN-γ after stimulation with concanavalin A (ConA). Six LSA-IFN-γ-producer cats were seropositive (three to ELISA and five to IFAT) but they were polymerase chain reaction (PCR) negative, while only one cat was antibody- and PCR-positive. Significant positive correlations were found between IFN-γ concentrations after stimulation with LSA and ConA, and between serology and PCR testing. No association was found between FIV status and LSA or ConA-IFN-γ production. Combining PCR, serology and specific IFN-γ concentration results, we found that 36% of cats studied were exposed to L. infantum. Conclusions: As expected, cats from endemic areas produce IFN-γ after ex vivo blood stimulation with LSA and therefore are able to activate a cell-mediated adaptive immune response against the parasite that is variably associated with antibody or blood PCR positivity. The association of this assay to serological and molecular tests provides a better estimate of cat exposure to L. infantum.
- Adaptive immunity
- Humoral immunity
- IFN-γ release whole blood assay
- Leishmania infantum
- Retroviral infections