Latent varicella zoster virus (VZV) has been detected in human adrenal glands, raising the possibility of virus-induced adrenal damage and dysfunction during primary infection or reactivation. Rare cases of bilateral adrenal hemorrhage and insufficiency associated with VZV reactivation have been reported. Since there is no animal model for VZV infection of adrenal glands, we obtained adrenal glands from two non-human primates (NHPs) that spontaneously developed varicella from primary simian varicella virus (SVV) infection, the NHP VZV homolog. Histological and immunohistochemical analysis revealed SVV antigen and DNA in the adrenal medulla and cortex of both animals. Adrenal glands were observed to have Cowdry A inclusion bodies, cellular necrosis, multiple areas of hemorrhage, and varying amounts of polymorphonuclear cells. No specific association of SVV antigen with βIII-tubulin-positive nerve fibers was found. Overall, we found that SVV can productively infect NHP adrenal glands, and is associated with inflammation, hemorrhage, and cell death. These findings suggest that further studies are warranted to examine the contribution of VZV infection to human adrenal disease. This study also suggests that VZV infection may present itself as acute adrenal dysfunction with "long-hauler" symptoms of fatigue, weakness, myalgias/arthralgias, and hypotension.
Keywords: adrenal dysfunction; adrenal glands; hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; simian varicella virus; varicella zoster virus.