Cytomegalovirus in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis: the role of inflammation as reflected by elevated C-reactive protein levels

J Am Coll Cardiol. 1999 Nov 15;34(6):1738-43. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(99)00410-6.


Objectives: We hypothesized that cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection: 1) stimulates an inflammatory response, reflected by elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, and 2) predisposes to coronary artery disease (CAD), in part, through CMV-induced inflammation.

Background: Although some studies show an association between CMV and atherosclerosis, others do not. We believed that CMV exerted an atherogenic effect by inducing inflammation, and the disparate results may derive partly from individual variability in the capacity to control CMV inflammatory activity.

Methods: Blood samples were tested for CMV seropositivity and CRP levels from 238 individuals being evaluated for CAD by coronary angiography.

Results: An elevated CRP level (>0.5 mg/dl) was a significant CAD determinant even after adjustment for traditional CAD risk factors (odds ratio [OR] = 2.4; p = 0.02). Moreover, CMV seropositivity was significantly associated with increased CRP levels (p = 0.04 after adjustment for CAD risk factors), suggesting that CMV could evoke a subclinical inflammatory response. However, considerable host variation existed in this response to CMV. When adjusted for CAD risk factors, the OR for CAD were 1.3 in the subgroup with CMV seropositivity alone (p = 0.7), 2.3 in the subgroup with elevated CRP levels alone (p = 0.2), and 4.3 in the subgroup with combined CMV seropositivity and elevated CRP levels (p = 0.01).

Conclusions: Our results suggest that 1) CMV elicits a subclinical inflammatory response, but only in certain individuals, and 2) individuals with an inflammatory response appear susceptible to the atherogenic effects of CMV, whereas those without appear resistant. These results may partly explain the disparate results of studies attempting to relate CMV to atherogenesis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / blood
  • Coronary Artery Disease / physiopathology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / virology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / blood
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / complications*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • C-Reactive Protein