Objective: To study the role of the cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and 2), varicella zoster virus (VZV), and human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) in the etiology of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to detect DNA of the different herpes viruses in synovial membranes from 31 patients with chronic RA and 14 control patients. Specific antibodies were determined by indirect immunofluorescence and ELISA.
Results: Out of 31 patients with RA, CMV DNA was detected in synovial membranes from 2 patients and EBV DNA was detected in synovial membranes from 2 other patients. All samples from the patients with RA were negative for DNA from HSV-1 and 2, VZV, and HHV-6. All samples from the 14 control patients were negative in all PCR assays. No statistically significant differences in IgG antibodies were found for CMV, HSV-1, VZV, and HHV-6 in patients with RA compared to controls. Higher titers of IgG antibodies against EBV viral capsid antigen were found in patients with RA, with a significance of p < 0.05.
Conclusion: Both CMV and EBV DNA were detected in synovial membranes from 6% of the patients with RA. We cannot exclude the possibility that these viruses were associated with disease development in a minority of patients with RA.