Cytomegalovirus infection reduces telomere length of the circulating T cell pool

J Immunol. 2010 Apr 1;184(7):3417-23. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0903442. Epub 2010 Feb 22.


Short telomeres of circulating leukocytes are a risk factor for age-related diseases, such as atherosclerosis, but the exact mechanisms generating variations in telomere length are unknown. We hypothesized that induction of differentiated T cells during chronic CMV infection would affect T cell telomere length. To test this, we measured the amount of differentiated T cells and telomere length of lymphocytes during primary CMV infection as well as CMV-seropositive and -seronegative healthy individuals. After primary CMV infection, we observed an increase in highly differentiated cells that coincided with a steep drop in telomere length. Moreover, we found in a cohort of 159 healthy individuals that telomere shortening was more rapid in CMV-seropositive individuals and correlated with the amount of differentiated T cells in both CD4(+) T cells and CD8(+) T cells. Finally, we found that telomere length measured in blood leukocytes is correlated with lymphocyte telomere length. Thus, CMV infection induces a strong decrease in T cell telomere length, which can be explained by changes in the composition of the circulating lymphocyte pool.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Cell Separation
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / genetics
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / immunology*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / pathology
  • DNA, Viral / blood
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Ganciclovir / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Kidney Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Kidney Transplantation / immunology
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / pathology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology*
  • Telomere / pathology*
  • Telomere / virology
  • Viremia / drug therapy
  • Young Adult


  • Antiviral Agents
  • DNA, Viral
  • Ganciclovir