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Glucocorticosteroids trigger reactivation of human cytomegalovirus from latently infected myeloid cells and increase the risk for HCMV infection in D+R+ liver transplant patients.

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Van Damme, Ellen 
Sauviller, Sarah 
Lau, Betty 
Kesteleyn, Bart 
Griffiths, Paul 


Graft rejection in transplant patients is managed clinically by suppressing T-cell function with immunosuppressive drugs such as prednisolone and methylprednisolone. In such immunocompromised hosts, human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is an important opportunistic pathogen and can cause severe morbidity and mortality. Currently, the effect of glucocorticosteroids (GCSs) on the HCMV life cycle remains unclear. Previous reports showed enhanced lytic replication of HCMV in vitro in the presence of GCSs. In the present study, we explored the implications of steroid exposure on latency and reactivation. We observed a direct effect of several GCSs used in the clinic on the activation of a quiescent viral major immediate-early promoter in stably transfected THP-1 monocytic cells. This activation was prevented by the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) antagonist Ru486 and by shRNA-mediated knockdown of the GR. Consistent with this observation, prednisolone treatment of latently infected primary monocytes resulted in HCMV reactivation. Analysis of the phenotype of these cells showed that treatment with GCSs was correlated with differentiation to an anti-inflammatory macrophage-like cell type. On the basis that these observations may be pertinent to HCMV reactivation in post-transplant settings, we retrospectively evaluated the incidence, viral kinetics and viral load of HCMV in liver transplant patients in the presence or absence of GCS treatment. We observed that combination therapy of baseline prednisolone and augmented methylprednisolone, upon organ rejection, significantly increased the incidence of HCMV infection in the intermediate risk group where donor and recipient are both HCMV seropositive (D+R+) to levels comparable with the high risk D+R- group.



Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Cell Differentiation, Cell Line, Communicable Diseases, Cytomegalovirus, Cytomegalovirus Infections, Female, Glucocorticoids, Humans, Immunocompromised Host, Liver, Liver Transplantation, Male, Middle Aged, Monocytes, Myeloid Cells, Receptors, Glucocorticoid, Viral Load, Virus Activation, Virus Latency, Young Adult

Journal Title

J Gen Virol

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Microbiology Society
Medical Research Council (MR/K021087/1)
Medical Research Council (G0701279)