Prednisolone treatment affects the performance of the QuantiFERON gold in-tube test and the tuberculin skin test in patients with autoimmune disorders screened for latent tuberculosis infection


  • The study was funded by an unrestricted grant from Abbott and Schering-Plough. The sponsor had no role in the analysis and interpretation of the data, the preparation, review, or approval of the article. Pernille Ravn holds a research grant from the Danish National Council. Conflicts of interest: Hvidovre Hospital has filed patents on the use of IP-10 as a marker for infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Morten Ruhwald and Pernille Ravn are registered as co-inventors. Pernille Ravn has been invited speaker by Cellestis and has received QFT-IT kits at a reduced price for nonprofit research. Morten Ruhwald has in 2008 and 2009 received travel grants from Cellestis.

  • This article was published online February 11, 2011. Some errors were subsequently identified. This notice is included in the online and print versions to indicate that both have been corrected March 23, 2011.



During screening for latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI), before anti-tumor-necrosis-factor-α treatment, most patients are already receiving immunosuppressive therapy. The objective was to evaluate the performance of the QuantiFERON Gold In-Tube (QFT-IT) and the Tuberculin Skin Test (TST).


A prospective multicenter study included 248 patients with ulcerative colitis (39), Crohn's disease (54), rheumatoid arthritis (111), and spondylo-arthropathy (44).


QFT-IT was positive in 7/248 (3%), negative in 229 (92%), and indeterminate in 12 (5%). TST was positive in 54/238 (23%) patients. Chest x-ray was suspect for tuberculosis in 5/236 (2%), and 35/167 (21%) had ≥1 risk-factors for infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The main finding was a pronounced negative effect on QFT-IT and TST performance associated with prednisolone treatment. During prednisolone treatment interferon gamma (IFN-γ) response to mitogen stimulation was impaired (median IFN-γ response 4.9 IU/mL; interquartile range [IQR] 0.8 to ≥10.0) compared to patients 1) not receiving corticosteroids (median ≥10.0; IQR 5.0 to ≥10.0; P = 0.0015) or 2) receiving long-acting corticosteroids (median >10.0; IQR 9.7 to >10.0; P = 0.0058). Prednisolone treatment was strongly associated with negative TST, adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 0.22 (0.1–0.8; P = 0.018), and with an increased risk of indeterminate QFT-IT results AOR 16.1 (4.1–63.2; P < 0.001), whereas no negative effect was found for long-acting corticosteroids. Doses of ≥10 mg prednisolone were associated with a 27% risk of indeterminate results. Single use of azathioprine, methotrexate, or 5-aminosalicylate (5-ASA) did not affect the test results.


Oral prednisolone severely suppressed QFT-IT and TST performance, whereas the long-acting corticosteroids methotrexate, azathioprine, and 5-ASA did not have a similar detrimental effect. Patients should be screened for LTBI with QFT-IT or TST prior to initiation of prednisolone therapy and negative QFT-IT or TST results interpreted with caution in patients treated with any corticosteroid until further data are available. (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2011;)