The aim of this study was to explore the diagnostic value of IL-31 levels in the pleural fluid and plasma to differentially diagnose tuberculous and malignant pleural effusion. We enrolled 91 cases, including tuberculous pleural effusion (TPE, n = 50), malignant pleural effusion (MPE, n = 41), other cases including pneumonia with pleural fluid, pulmonary tuberculosis and healthy people as controls. Whole blood was stimulated with the M. tuberculosis-specific antigens and plasma was collected. The multiplex bead-based cytokine immunoassay was employed to measure the levels of various cytokines. IL-31 was found to be the most prominent cytokine (P < 0.0001), and with an optimal cut-off value of 67.5 pg/mL, the sensitivity and specificity for the diagnosis of TPE were 86% and 100%, respectively. Furthermore, the tuberculosis-specific IL-31 levels in the plasma of TPE patients were higher than that of MPE patients (P = 0.0002). At an optimal cut-off value of 23.9 pg/mL, the sensitivity and specificity for the diagnosis of TPE were 92.9% and 85.7%, respectively. Ultimately, the combination of pleural fluid with the plasma tuberculosis-specific IL-31 levels improved the sensitivity and specificity to 94.0% and 95.1%, respectively. Thus, we identified a novel biomarker for the diagnosis of TPE for clinical application.
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