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New Microbiol. 1998 Jul;21(3):293-308.

Diagnostic significance and clinical impact of quantitative assays for diagnosis of human cytomegalovirus infection/disease in immunocompromised patients.

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Servizio di Virologia, IRCCS Policlinico San Matteo, Italy.


In recent years several assays have been developed for quantitation of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) in blood of immunocompromised (transplanted and AIDS) patients. It is currently agreed that the only reliable indication of the degree of dissemination of HCMV infection/disease is the measurement of HCMV in blood. Diagnosis of HCMV end-organ disease (organ localizations) often does not benefit from quantitation of virus in blood, but requires detection and quantification of virus in samples taken locally. The most important and clinically useful diagnostic assays for HCMV quantitation in blood are: i) viremia, quantifying infectious HCMV carried by peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL); ii) pp65-antigenemia, quantifying the number of PBL positive for HCMV pp65 in the nucleus; iii) circulating cytomegalic endothelial cell (CEC) viremia (CEC-viremia) measuring the number of circulating CEC carrying infectious HCMV (during the antigenemia assay); iv) leuko- and plasma-DNAemia, quantifying the number of HCMV genome equivalents present in PBL or plasma, respectively, by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (Q-PCR). Other less widely used assays are: i) determination of immediate early and late gene transcripts (mRNA) to detect active viral infection; ii) in situ hybridization to detect viral nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) in tissue sections or cell smears; iii) in situ PCR to detect a low DNA copy number in single cells. Monitoring of HCMV infection/disease in transplant recipients and AIDS patients has established threshold values for different assays above which HCMV-related clinical symptoms are likely to appear. These values are approximately 10 for viremia, 100 for antigenemia and 1,000 GE for leukoDNAemia, and are valid for both solid organ and bone marrow transplant recipients as well as AIDS patients, whereas presence of even a single circulating CEC is sufficient to suggest the presence of a disseminated HCMV infection with potential organ involvement. Monitoring of antiviral treatment of HCMV infection/disease with either ganciclovir or foscarnet has aimed at keeping virologic parameters below the threshold values reported above. On the other hand, rising levels of the same virologic parameters during antiviral treatment have mostly revealed emergence of resistant HCMV strains to either ganciclovir (mutations in the UL97 or DNA polymerase gene) or foscarnet (mutations in the UL54 gene) or both drugs (double resistance with both types of mutations). Rapid assays for chemosensitivity testing of virus directly in clinical specimens have been developed to allow timely (4-6 days) detection of resistance to a drug and provide clinicians with the rationale for shifting to an alternative treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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