The endothelial cell (EC) is the primary target for Rickettsia conorii (RC) in Mediterranean spotted fever (MSF). Clinical manifestations such as thrombosis and vasculitis are mediated by pathologic changes localized in blood vessels. To study the in vivo endothelial injury induced by RC, markers of endothelial damage, including circulating EC (CEC), plasmatic thrombomodulin (TM), and von Willebrand factor (vWF), were investigated in 12 patients with MSF. CEC were counted in whole blood by a new immunomagnetic separation assay using a specific anti-EC antibody, S-Endo 1. Plasmatic TM and vWF antigens were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. High levels of CEC and cell fragments were found in patients with a severe or malignant form of MSF. Sequential studies of CEC showed a decrease from 162 +/- 454 cells/mL before treatment to 6 +/- 7 cells/mL during treatment and recovery. Mean plasma TM and vWF levels that were also elevated before therapy (TM, 106 +/- 27 ng/mL; vWF, 420% +/- 164%) decreased progressively (TM, 55 +/- 43 ng/mL; vWF, 148% +/- 26%) during treatment. The measurement of cellular and molecular markers of vascular damage such as CEC, plasmatic TM, and vWF contributes to the definition of the Rickettsia-induced endothelial injury in vivo.

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