Cytomegalovirus infection of the liver transplant: virological, histological, immunological, and clinical observations

Transpl Infect Dis. 2006 Mar;8(1):21-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3062.2006.00122.x.


The most common organ-specific manifestation of cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection after liver transplantation is hepatitis. Here we retrospectively describe the detailed virological, histological, immunological, and clinical findings associated with CMV infection in 229 consecutive adult liver transplantation patients. CMV infection was diagnosed by pp65 antigenemia. From 439 liver biopsies, CMV antigens were demonstrated by immunohistochemistry and CMV DNA by hybridization. The Banff criteria were used for histology. The expression of various adhesion molecules (intercellular adhesion molecule-1 [ICAM-1], vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 [VCAM-1], endothelial leukocyte adhesion molecule-1 [ELAM-1]), their ligands (leukocyte function antigen-1 [LFA-1], very late antigen-4 [VLA-4], Sialyl-LewisX-molecule [SLeX]), and lymphoid activation markers (major histocompatibility complex [MHC] Class II, interleukin-2-receptor [IL-2R]) was demonstrated by immunohistochemistry. CMV infection of the transplant occurred in 26 patients (11% of all 229 patients and 17% of the 151 patients with liver biopsy). The incidence was higher among seronegative (26%) than in seropositive recipients (9%), but most cases 18/26 (70%) were reactivations. The CMV pp65 antigenemia levels were usually high in primary infections (893+/-1069, range 50-3000 pp65+cells), but varied widely in reactivations (388+/-740, range 3-3000). The histological Banff score was slightly increased (2.3+/-0.9). Microabscesses, lymphocytic infiltration, Kupffer cell reaction, and parenchymal alterations were common but viral inclusions rare. CMV significantly (P<0.05) increased ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 expression and the number of LFA-1, VLA-4, and Class II-positive lymphocytes in the graft. All CMV infections were successfully treated with antivirals. Intragraft CMV infection had no influence on the long-term outcome, but biliary complications were common. In conclusion, CMV infection of the liver transplant occurred both in primary infection and in reactivation, and also in the cases with low pp65 antigenemia levels. Microabscesses and other histological alterations were common but viral inclusions rare. Increased adhesion molecule expression was associated with lymphocyte infiltration. Successfully treated CMV hepatitis had no influence on the long-term clinical outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antigens, Viral / blood*
  • Biopsy
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / analysis
  • Cytomegalovirus / genetics
  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / complications
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / immunology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / pathology*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / virology
  • DNA, Viral / analysis*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / analysis
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods*
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 / analysis
  • Liver Transplantation* / adverse effects
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 / analysis


  • Antigens, Viral
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • DNA, Viral
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1