Expanded populations of CD4+CD28− T cells with a cytotoxic phenotype have been repeatedly reported in patients with granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener's) (GPA). In healthy individuals expansion of this T cell population follows cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection. We undertook this study to investigate whether CMV infection may be responsible for driving the expansion of CD4+CD28− T cells in GPA patients and how this might relate to clinical features.


Forty-eight GPA patients and 38 age-matched healthy donors were included in the study. CMV-specific IgG in serum was detected by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Flow cytometric analysis was used to study T cell populations and phenotype. The presence of CMV in renal biopsy tissue from GPA patients was investigated by immunohistochemistry and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Clinical information was obtained from patient records.


Populations of CD4+CD28− T cells were only expanded in CMV-seropositive GPA patients and controls. In CMV-seropositive GPA patients we observed negative correlations between the percentages of CD4+CD28− T cells and both the percentage of naive T cells and the glomerular filtration rate at presentation. There was a significant association between the percentage of CD4+CD28− T cells and risk of infection and mortality. CMV could not be detected in renal tissue by PCR or immunohistochemistry. CMV seropositivity itself was not a risk factor for infection in a cohort of 182 patients with antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody–associated vasculitis who had been recruited into clinical trials performed by the European Vasculitis Study Group.


The expansion of CD4+CD28− T cells in GPA patients is associated with CMV infection and leads to a reduction in the number of naive T cells in peripheral blood. Patients with expanded CD4+CD28− T cells have significantly increased mortality and risk of infection.