Objectives: To determine whether recurrence of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) viraemia during maintenance ganciclovir for cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis correlates with (i) CMV disease at a new anatomical site, (ii) progression of the presenting retinitis, or (iii) acquisition of genetic changes in gene UL97 associated with resistance to ganciclovir.
Design: A previously described cohort of 45 patients presenting with first episode retinitis was followed clinically using ophthalmoscopy and serial tests for PCR viraemia for a median of 7 months. CMV viral load and genetic markers of ganciclovir resistance were measured in PCR-positive samples.
Methods: PCR amplification of the glycoprotein B region of CMV and quantitative competitive PCR assays were employed. Genetic changes in UL97 were identified by sequencing/point mutation assay.
Results: PCR viraemia correlated significantly with new episodes of CMV disease (P=0.011) and a trend was seen for the association with progression of retinitis (P=0.07). Amongst the 14 patients PCR-positive during maintenance ganciclovir, 10 (71%) had genetic markers of resistance. None of these patients became PCR-negative in blood after reinduction ganciclovir therapy compared with three out of four without markers of resistance (P=0.022).
Conclusions: CMV PCR viraemia correlated strongly with the development of new episodes of CMV disease. Most patients with progression of retinitis remained PCR-negative in blood, consistent with therapeutic failure due to poor intraocular penetration of ganciclovir. However, the minority who were PCR-positive in blood may have reinfected their eye, and frequently had markers of ganciclovir resistance. The implications of these findings for the management of patients with CMV disease are discussed.