Deep functional immunophenotyping predicts risk of cytomegalovirus reactivation after hematopoietic cell transplantation

Jose F. Camargo, Eric Wieder, Erik Kimble, Cara Benjamin, Despina S. Kolonias, Deukwoo Kwon, Xi Steven Chen and Krishna V. Komanduri

Key points

  • Risk of CMV in HCT recipients is poorly captured by assessment of quantitative defects in the T cell pool or production of IFN-gamma alone.

  • Virus-specific CD8+ T cell functional profiles predict risk of clinically significant CMV, independent of steroids or T cell depletion.


CMV is the most common viral infection in hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) recipients. We performed deep phenotyping of CMV-specific T cells to predict CMV outcomes following allogeneic HCT. By using 13-color flow cytometry, we studied ex vivo CD8+ T cell cytokine production in response to CMV-pp65 peptides in three clinically distinct subgroups of CMV seropositive HCT patients: 1) Elite Controllers (EC; n=19): did not have evidence of CMV DNAemia on surveillance testing; 2) Spontaneous Controllers (SC; n=16): spontaneously resolved low-grade CMV DNAemia without antiviral therapy; and 3) Non-controllers (NC; n=21): experienced clinically significant CMV. Two CMV-specific CD8+ T cell functional subsets were strongly associated with risk of CMV: i) the non-protective signature (NPS; IL2-IFNγ+TNFα-MIP1β+), found at increased levels among NC; and ii) the protective signature (PS; IL2+IFNγ+TNFα+MIP1β+) found at low levels among NC. High levels of the NPS and low levels of PS were associated with an increased 100-day cumulative incidence of clinically significant CMV infection (35% vs 5%; P=0.02; and 40% vs 12%; P=0.05, respectively). The highest predictive value was observed when these signatures were combined into a composite biomarker consisting of low levels of the PS and high levels of the NPS (67% vs. 10%; P<0.001). After adjusting for steroid use or donor type, this composite biomarker remained associated with a 5-fold increase in the risk of clinically significant CMV infection. CMV-specific CD8+ T cell cytokine signatures with robust predictive value for risk of CMV reactivation should prove useful in guiding clinical decision making in HCT recipients.

  • Submitted October 5, 2018.
  • Accepted December 16, 2018.