Epstein-Barr virus reactivation in sepsis due to community-acquired pneumonia is associated with increased morbidity and an immunosuppressed host transcriptomic endotype

Sci Rep. 2020 Jun 17;10(1):9838. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-66713-3.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) reactivation is common in sepsis patients but the extent and nature of this remains unresolved. We sought to determine the incidence and correlates of EBV-positivity in a large sepsis cohort. We also hypothesised that EBV reactivation would be increased in patients in whom relative immunosuppression was the major feature of their sepsis response. To identify such patients we aimed to use knowledge of sepsis response subphenotypes based on transcriptomic studies of circulating leukocytes, specifically patients with a Sepsis Response Signature endotype (SRS1) that we have previously shown to be associated with increased mortality and features of immunosuppression. We assayed EBV from the plasma of intensive care unit (ICU) patients with sepsis due to community-acquired pneumonia. In total 730 patients were evaluated by targeted metagenomics (n = 573 patients), digital droplet PCR (n = 565), or both (n = 408). We had previously analysed gene expression in peripheral blood leukocytes for a subset of individuals (n = 390). We observed a 37% incidence of EBV-positivity. EBV reactivation was associated with longer ICU stay (12.9 vs 9.2 days; p = 0.004) and increased organ failure (day 1 SOFA score 6.9 vs 5.9; p = 0.00011). EBV reactivation was associated with the relatively immunosuppressed SRS1 endotype (p = 0.014) and differential expression of a small number of biologically relevant genes. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that viral reactivation in sepsis is a consequence of immune compromise and is associated with increasing severity of illness although further mechanistic studies are required to definitively illustrate cause and effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Community-Acquired Infections / complications
  • Female
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host*
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Metagenomics
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia / complications*
  • Sepsis / complications
  • Sepsis / genetics
  • Sepsis / mortality*
  • Sepsis / virology*
  • Transcriptome*
  • Virus Activation*
  • Young Adult