Diagnostic accuracy of inflammatory markers in adults with suspected central nervous system infections

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Objectives: We aimed to determine diagnostic accuracy of inflammatory markers in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for the diagnosis of central nervous system (CNS) infections and specifically bacterial meningitis. Methods: We analyzed 12 cytokines, chemokines, and acute phase reactants in CSF and plasma of 738 patients with suspected neurological infection included in a multicenter prospective cohort. We determined diagnostic accuracy for predicting any CNS infection and bacterial meningitis. Results: We included 738 episodes between 2017 and 2022, split into a derivation (n = 450) and validation cohort (n = 288). Of these patients, 224 (30%) were diagnosed with CNS infection, of which 81 (11%) with bacterial meningitis, 107 (14%) with viral meningitis or encephalitis, and 35 patients (5%) with another CNS infection. Diagnostic accuracy of CRP, IL-6, and Il-1β in CSF was high, especially for diagnosing bacterial meningitis. Combining these biomarkers in a multivariable model increased accuracy and provided excellent discrimination between bacterial meningitis and all other disorders (AUC = 0.99), outperforming all individual biomarkers as well as CSF leukocytes (AUC = 0.97). When applied to the population of patients with a CSF leukocyte count of 5–1000 cells/mm3, accuracy of the model also provided a high diagnostic accuracy (AUC model = 0.97 vs. AUC CSF leukocytes = 0.80) with 100% sensitivity and 92% specificity. These results remained robust in a temporal validation cohort. Conclusions: Inflammatory biomarkers in CSF are able to differentiate CNS infections and especially bacterial meningitis from other disorders. When these biomarkers are combined, their diagnostic accuracy exceeds that of CSF leukocytes alone and as such these markers have added value to current clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106117
JournalJournal of Infection
Issue number3
Early online date4 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Biomarkers
  • CNS infection
  • Diagnostic accuracy

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