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N Engl J Med. 1993 Jul 15;329(3):156-61.

Human herpesvirus 6 in lung tissue from patients with pneumonitis after bone marrow transplantation.

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Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle.



Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) is a recently described herpesvirus that is epidemiologically and biologically similar to cytomegalovirus. It is the cause of exanthem subitum (roseola) in children.


To evaluate the possible role of HHV-6 infection in pneumonitis in immunocompromised patients, we used quantitative HHV-6 polymerase chain reactions to study lung-biopsy specimens from 15 patients with pneumonitis after bone marrow transplantation and lung tissue from 15 immunocompetent subjects without pneumonitis and 6 fetuses.


HHV-6 DNA was detected in lung tissue from all 15 patients, from 14 seropositive control subjects, and from none of the 7 seronegative control subjects. Six patients had levels of HHV-6 DNA in lung tissue that were 10 to 500 times higher than those in any of the other patients or control subjects. Increased levels of HHV-6 DNA correlated with a decreased risk of death from pneumonitis (P = 0.015), an increased severity of graft-versus-host disease (P = 0.023), and the presence of idiopathic pneumonitis (P = 0.037). Levels of HHV-6 DNA correlated directly with the changes in HHV-6 antibody titers in the interval between the pretransplantation period and the open-lung biopsy (P = 0.002). Low levels of HHV-6 antibody at the time of the open-lung biopsy were also associated with the diagnosis of idiopathic pneumonitis (P = 0.002).


The concentrations of HHV-6 genome in lung tissue and their relation to changes in serologic titers support an association between HHV-6 infection and idiopathic pneumonitis in immunocompromised hosts.

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