Human cytomegalovirus infection and the immune response to exercise

Exerc Immunol Rev. 2016:22:8-27.


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a ubiquitous -herpes virus that has co-evolved with its host since the very beginning of human life. The vast majority of adults worldwide carry the virus in a latent state, which is known to have striking effects on the composition and function of both T-cells and NK-cells. While there is evidence to suggest that prior exposure to HCMV can have beneficial effects in the immune competent host, poor control of the virus may contribute to T-cell exhaustion and the early onset of immunosenescence. The interaction between HCMV and exercise has garnered a lot of recent research attention. This stemmed from observations that people with HCMV redeploy greater numbers of CD8+ T-cells in response to a single exercise bout, while NK-cell mobilization is, conversely, impaired. Moreover, athletes with latent HCMV infection may be better protected against symptoms of upper respiratory illness (URI), and it has been suggested that the host's ability to control HCMV (i.e. keeping CMV in a latent state) may connect apparent bidirectional effects of exercise volume on host immunity and infection risk. This work has set a new paradigm that immune responses to both acute and chronic exercise might be governed by the infection history of the host. In this review, we summarize current knowledge on the effects of HCMV infection on T-cells and NK-cells and synthesize the literature on HCMV and the immune response to both single exercise bouts and prolonged periods of exercise training. We also discuss potential clinical and practical applications of this work including the use of HCMV reactivation as a biomarker of immune depression in athletes, its relevance in immunosenescence and the associated immune risk profile, and the potential for exercise to augment vaccine responses and the man ufacture of immune cells for adoptive transfer immunotherapy. Although research in this area is still in its infancy, we conclude that host infection history and the ability to regulate dormant pathogens is likely to play a key role in our understanding of how the immune system responds to both acute and chronic exercise across the entire exercise volume continuum.

Keywords: Immunosenescence; NK-cell; T-cell; acute stress response; adoptive transfer immunotherapy; athletes; vaccination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections*
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive
  • Killer Cells, Natural