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Clin Exp Immunol. 2003 Feb;131(2):318-23.

Local immune responses and systemic cytokine responses in zoster: relationship to the development of postherpetic neuralgia.

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Dermatology, Medical University of Lodz, Lodz, Poland.


Varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes varicella (chickenpox) as the primary infection and zoster (shingles) on reactivation from latency, often many years later. One of the most common and most severe sequela of zoster is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Apart from age, factors which predispose towards PHN are unknown. In the present study, the concentration of a variety of Th1 and Th2 cytokines in the serum of 30 zoster patients at the time of the acute disease were correlated with the subsequent development of PHN in nine of these patients, but no association was found. In addition, although some cytokines such as IFN-gamma, IL-6 and IL-8 were slightly raised in the zoster group compared with a group of normal healthy subjects of a similar age distribution, these differences only verged on significance. Antibody titres to VZV were raised in the zoster group compared with the controls but these did not differ between the patients who developed PHN and those who did not. Biopsies of zoster lesions were collected from nine patients. There were significantly fewer infiltrating lymphocytes in the lesions of the three patients who subsequently developed PHN compared with the six who did not, although the expression of the neuropeptide, substance P, did not differ between the two groups. It is possible that the poor inflammatory response at the time of the acute zoster may result in less effective containment of the VZV and more damage in the dermatome, thus contributing to the persistence of the neuralgia.

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