Objective: Recent studies suggest that giant cell arteritis (GCA) may be an antigen-driven disease. Since Chlamydia pneumoniae has been identified in arterial vessel walls, it was hypothesized that this organism might be associated with GCA.
Methods: Fourteen paraffin-embedded temporal artery biopsy specimens from 9 patients with GCA were examined by immunohistochemistry and by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the presence of C pneumoniae; for 5 patients, specimens were available from both the left and right arteries. Four temporal artery specimens from 3 patients with polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) and 9 temporal artery specimens from 5 patients without GCA or PMR served as controls.
Results: C pneumoniae was detected by both immunohistochemistry and PCR in 6 GCA patient samples. One GCA patient sample was immunopositive only; another was PCR positive only. Thus, C pneumoniae was found in 8 of 9 GCA patients. One of 4 control samples from the PMR patients was immunopositive, but PCR negative, for C pneumoniae. The C pneumoniae-positive PMR patient also had respiratory symptoms. The remaining 9 control samples were negative for C pneumoniae by both immunohistochemistry and PCR. Immunohistochemistry showed that bacteria predominate in the adventitial layer of temporal arteries, in granulomatous infiltrates. Dendritic cells were examined by immunohistochemistry for their presence and localization in consecutive temporal artery specimens, and showed a strong topographic relationship with C pneumoniae. Like the bacterium, dendritic cells predominate in the adventitial layer of the arteries.
Conclusion: C pneumoniae was found in temporal artery specimens from most GCA patients, in 1 specimen from a PMR patient, and in no other control specimens; thus, it may play a role in the pathogenesis of the disease. Dendritic cells may represent the antigen-presenting cells in this situation.