Detection of human herpesvirus-6 in cerebrospinal fluid of patients with encephalitis

Ann Neurol. 2009 Mar;65(3):257-67. doi: 10.1002/ana.21611.


Objective: Virus infections are the most common causes of encephalitis, a syndrome characterized by acute inflammation of the brain. More than 150 different viruses have been implicated in the pathogenesis of encephalitis; however, because of limitations with diagnostic testing, causative factors of more than half of the cases remain unknown.

Methods: To investigate whether human herpesvirus-6 (HHV-6) is a causative agent of encephalitis, we examined for evidence of virus infection by determining the presence of viral sequence using polymerase chain reaction and assessed HHV-6 antibody reactivity in the cerebrospinal fluid of encephalitis patients with unknown cause. In a cohort study, we compared virus-specific antibody levels in cerebrospinal fluid samples of patients with encephalitis, relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, and other neurological diseases.

Results: Our results demonstrated increased levels of HHV-6 IgG, as well as IgM levels, in a subset of encephalitis patients compared with other neurological diseases. Moreover, cell-free viral DNA that is indicative of active infection was detected in 40% (14/35) of encephalitis patients, whereas no amplifiable viral sequence was found in either relapsing-remitting MS or other neurological diseases patients. In addition, a significant correlation between polymerase chain reaction detection and anti-HHV-6 antibody response was also demonstrated.

Interpretation: Collectively, these results suggested HHV-6 as a possible pathogen in a subset of encephalitis cases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / virology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Line
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA, Viral / cerebrospinal fluid
  • DNA, Viral / chemistry
  • Encephalitis, Viral / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Encephalitis, Viral / pathology
  • Female
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Immunoassay
  • Immunoglobulin G / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Immunoglobulin M / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Roseolovirus Infections / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Roseolovirus Infections / pathology
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • DNA, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin M