Objectives: Cytomegalovirus infection is thought to affect the immune system and to impact general health during ageing. Higher CMV-specific antibody levels in the elderly are generally assumed to reflect experienced viral reactivation during life. Furthermore, high levels of terminally differentiated and CMV-specific T cells are hallmarks of CMV infection, which are thought to expand over time, a process also referred to as memory inflation.
Methods: We studied CMV-specific antibody levels over ~ 27 years in 268 individuals (aged 60-89 years at study endpoint), and to link duration of CMV infection to T-cell numbers, CMV-specific T-cell functions, frailty and cardiovascular disease at study endpoint.
Results: In our study, 136/268 individuals were long-term CMV seropositive and 19 seroconverted during follow-up (seroconversion rate: 0.56%/year). CMV-specific antibody levels increased slightly over time. However, we did not find an association between duration of CMV infection and CMV-specific antibody levels at study endpoint. No clear association between duration of CMV infection and the size and function of the memory T-cell pool was observed. Elevated CMV-specific antibody levels were associated with the prevalence of cardiovascular disease but not with frailty. Age at CMV seroconversion was positively associated with CMV-specific antibody levels, memory CD4+ T-cell numbers and frailty.
Conclusion: Cytomegalovirus-specific memory T cells develop shortly after CMV seroconversion but do not seem to further increase over time. Age-related effects other than duration of CMV infection seem to contribute to CMV-induced changes in the immune system. Although CMV-specific immunity is not evidently linked to frailty, it tends to associate with higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease.