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Congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is the most common congenital infection causing childhood morbidity. The pathogenetic mechanisms behind long-term sequelae are unclear, but long-standing viremia as a consequence of the inability to convert the virus to a latent state has been suggested to be involved. Whereas primary CMV infection in adults is typically rapidly controlled by the immune system, children have been shown to excrete virus for years. Here, we compare T cell responses in children with congenital CMV infection, children with postnatal CMV infection and adults with symptomatic primary CMV infection. The study groups included 24 children with congenital CMV infection, 19 children with postnatal CMV infection and eight adults with primary CMV infection. Among the infants with congenital CMV infection, 13 were symptomatic. T cell responses were determined by analysis of interferon gamma production after stimulation with CMV antigen. Our results show that whereas adults display high CMV-specific CD4 T cell responses in the initial phase of the infection, children younger than 2 years have low or undetectable responses that appear to increase with time. There were no differences between groups with regard to CD8 T cell function. In conclusion, inadequate CD 4 T cell function seems to be involved in the failure to get immune control of the CMV infection in children younger than 2 years of age with congenital as well as postnatal CMV infection.
© 2012 The Authors. Scandinavian Journal of Immunology © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.