Human cytomegalovirus alters immune cell profile with potential implications for patient survival in head and neck cancer

Heather H. Nelson, Emma Contestabile, De Von Hunter-Schlichting, Devin Koestler, Michael Pawlita, Tim Waterboer, Brock C. Christensen, Curtis L. Petersen, Jeffrey S. Miller, Karl T. Kelsey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a highly prevalent human herpes virus that exerts a strong influence on immune repertoire which may influence cancer risk. We have tested whether CMV immunoglobulin G (IgG) serostatus is associated with immune cell proportions (n = 132 population controls), human papillomavirus (HPV) co-infection and head and neck cancer risk (n = 184 cancer cases and 188 controls) and patient survival. CMV status was not associated with the proportion of Natural Killer cells, B cells or the neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio. However, CD8+ T cells increased with increasing categories of IgG titers (P =1.7 × 10-10), and titers were inversely associated with the CD4:CD8 ratio (P = 5.6 × 10-5). Despite these differences in T cell proportions, CMV was not associated with HPV16 co-infection. CMV seropositivity was similar in cases (52%) and controls (47%) and was not associated with patient survival (hazard ratio [HR] 1.14, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.70 to 1.86). However, those patients with the highest titers had the worst survival (HR 1.91, 95% CI: 1.13 to 3.23). Tumor-based data from The Cancer Genome Atlas demonstrated that the presence of CMV transcripts was associated with worse patient survival (HR 1.79, 95% CI: 0.96 to 2.78). These findings confirm that a history of CMV infection alters T cell proportions, but this does not translate to HPV16 co-infection or head and neck cancer risk. Our data suggest that high titers and active CMV virus in the tumor environment may confer worse survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)430-436
Number of pages7
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2022

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© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


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