Decreased cytomegalovirus (CMV)-specific immunity after hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) is associated with late CMV reactivation and increased mortality. Whether letermovir prophylaxis-associated reduction in viral exposure influences CMV-specific immune reconstitution is unknown. In a prospective cohort of allogeneic HCT recipients who received letermovir, we compared polyfunctional CMV-specific T-cell responses to those of controls who received PCR-guided preemptive therapy before the introduction of letermovir. Thirteen-color flow cytometry was used to assess T-cell responses at 3 months after HCT following stimulation with CMV immediate early-1 (IE-1) antigen and phosphoprotein 65 (pp65) antigens. Polyfunctionality was characterized by combinatorial polyfunctionality analysis of antigen-specific T-cell subsets. Use of letermovir and reduction of viral exposure were assessed for their association with CMV-specific T-cell immunity. Polyfunctional T-cell responses to IE-1 and pp65 were decreased in letermovir recipients and remained diminished after adjustment for donor CMV serostatus, absolute lymphocyte count, and steroid use. Among letermovir recipients, greater peak CMV DNAemia and increased viral shedding were associated with stronger CD8+ responses to pp65, whereas the CMV shedding rate was associated with greater CD4+ responses to IE-1. In summary, our study provided initial evidence that letermovir may delay CMV-specific cellular reconstitution, possibly related to decreased CMV antigen exposure. Evaluating T-cell polyfunctionality may identify patients at risk for late CMV infection after HCT.
© 2021 by The American Society of Hematology.