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Keywords:

  • Bronchoalveolar lavage;
  • CD8+ T cells;
  • cytomegalovirus;
  • lung transplantation;
  • MHC class I tetramers

Despite the potentially high burden of cytomegalovirus (CMV)-related disease following lung transplantation, the role of the cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) response to CMV in this patient group is ill-defined. We assessed the CMV-specific T-cell response in the blood and lung allograft of immunosuppressed lung transplant recipients receiving antiviral prophylaxis and following their withdrawal. While the proportion of CMV-specific CTL varied between patients, in the absence of CMV reactivation the level of CMV-specific CD8+ T cells in the blood remained stable over time. In the majority of patients CMV-specific cells could be detected in the lung allograft, often in the absence of viral DNA. Additionally, following primary CMV lung infection, CMV-specific CD8+ T cells were detected no earlier than 100 days post-transplantation but still prior to the detection of viral DNA in the lung allograft. Together these findings suggest that very low levels of CMV replication are sufficient to both prime and recruit CMV-specific CD8+ T cells to the MHC-mismatched lung allograft. The direct detection of CMV-specific T cells with an effector phenotype in the lung allograft suggests a protective antiviral function. This study provides a framework upon which the association between CMV and chronic allograft rejection can be further studied.