Low-Level Cytomegalovirus Antigenemia Promotes Protective Cytomegalovirus Antigen-Specific T Cells after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation

Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2020 Nov;26(11):2147-2154. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2020.07.024. Epub 2020 Jul 25.


Previous studies have reported a beneficial effect from cytomegalovirus (CMV) reactivation after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (alloHCT) on immune reconstitution. We determined the CMV antigenemia level associated with increased CMV antigen-specific T cells (CASTs) at day +100 and decreased CMV reactivation after day +100. CMV reactivation and CASTs were measured with CMV antigenemia and CMV-specific major histocompatibility complex multimers. The analysis consisted of 775 CAST measurements obtained before and 30, 100, and 365 days post-alloHCT from 327 consecutive patients treated between 2008 and 2016. Detectable CASTs correlated with recipient (P < .0001) and donor (P < .0001) CMV seropositivity pre-alloHCT. CMV reactivation before day +100 was associated with a higher proportion of patients who achieved ≥3 CASTs/µL by day +100 (61% with versus 39% without reactivation, P < .001). In alloHCT recipients at high risk for CMV reactivation (R+D±) with a maximum of grade II acute graft-versus-host-disease, reactivating CMV before day +100 and achieving ≥3 versus <3 CASTs/µL at day +100 was associated with reduced CMV reactivation from day +100 to +365 (27% versus 62%, P = .04). This protective effect was observed with low-level but not high-level CMV reactivation (<5 versus ≥5/50,000 polymorphonuclear leukocytes + pp65, respectively). These findings suggest low-level CMV reactivation may be beneficial and that treatment may be delayed until progression. These findings will need validation in prospective clinical trials using CMV PCR and antigenemia assays.

Keywords: Cytomegalovirus; Immune reconstitution; MHC-multimer testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections*
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • T-Lymphocytes
  • Transplantation, Homologous