Objective: To assess the diagnostic reliability of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for virus-associated opportunistic diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) in HIV-infected patients.
Design: CSF samples from 500 patients with HIV infection and CNS symptoms were examined by PCR. In 219 patients the PCR results were compared with CNS histological findings.
Methods: Nested PCR for detection of herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 or 2, varicella zoster virus (VZV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), and JC virus (JCV) DNA. Histopathological examination of CNS tissue obtained at autopsy or on brain biopsy.
Results: DNA of one or more viruses was found in CSF in 181 out of 500 patients (36%; HSV-1 2%, HSV-2 1%, VZV 3%, CMV 16%, EBV 12%, HHV-6 2%, and JCV 9%). Among the 219 patients with histological CNS examination, HSV-1 or 2 was detected in CSF in all six patients (100%) with HSV infection of the CNS, CMV in 37 out of 45 (82%) with CMV infection of the CNS, EBV in 35 out of 36 (97%) with primary CNS lymphoma, JCV in 28 out of 39 (72%) with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Furthermore, HSV-1 was found in one, VZV in four, CMV in three, EBV in three, HHV-6 in seven, and JCV in one patient without histological evidence of the corresponding CNS disease.
Conclusions: CSF PCR has great relevance for diagnosis of virus-related opportunistic CNS diseases in HIV-infected patients as demonstrated by its high sensitivity, specificity, and the frequency of positive findings.