In drug-induced hypersensitivity syndrome (DIHS), latent human herpesvirus (HHV)-6 is frequently reactivated in association with flaring of symptoms such as fever and hepatitis. We recently demonstrated an emergence of monomyeloid precursors expressing HHV-6 antigen in the circulation during this clinical course.
To clarify the mechanism of HHV-6 reactivation, we immunologically investigated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), skin-infiltrating cells, and lymphocytes expanded from skin lesions of patients with DIHS.
The circulating monomyeloid precursors in the patients with DIHS were mostly CD11b+CD13+CD14−CD16high and showed substantial expression of skin-associated molecules, such as CCR4. CD13+CD14− cells were also found in the DIHS skin lesions, suggesting skin recruitment of this cell population. We detected high levels of high-mobility group box (HMGB)-1 in blood and skin lesions in the active phase of patients with DIHS and showed that recombinant HMGB-1 had functional chemoattractant activity for monocytes/monomyeloid precursors in vitro. HHV-6 infection of the skin-resident CD4+ T cells was confirmed by the presence of its genome and antigen. This infection was likely to be mediated by monomyeloid precursors recruited to the skin, because normal CD4+ T cells gained HHV-6 antigen after in vitro coculture with highly virus-loaded monomyeloid precursors from the patients.
Our results suggest that monomyeloid precursors harboring HHV-6 are navigated by HMGB-1 released from damaged skin and probably cause HHV-6 transmission to skin-infiltrating CD4+ T cells, which is an indispensable event for HHV-6 replication. These findings implicate the skin as a cryptic and primary site for initiating HHV-6 reactivation.