Discovering where a common virus hides in the body has been a long-term quest for scientists. Up to 80 percent of adults harbor the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), which can cause severe illness and death in people with weakened immune systems. Now, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's Institute for Regenerative Medicine report that stem cells that encircle blood vessels can be a hiding place, suggesting a potential treatment target. In the American Journal of Transplantation (published online on March 4, 2011, ahead of print), senior scientist Graca Almeida-Porada, M.D., Ph.D., professor of regenerative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, and colleagues report that perivascular stem cells, which are found in bone marrow and surround blood vessels in the body's organs, are a reservoir of HCMV. The virus, which is a member of the herpes family, is unnoticed in healthy people. Half to 80 percent of all adults in the U.S. are infected with HCMV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In people with weakened immune systems, including those with HIV, undergoing chemotherapy, or who are organ or bone marrow transplant recipients, the virus can become re-activated. Once re-activated, HCMV can cause a host of problems – from pneumonia to inflammation of the liver and brain – that are associated with organ rejection and death. "There are anti-viral medications designed to prevent HCMV from re-activating, but HVMC infection remains one of the major complications after both organ and bone marrow transplants," said Dr. Almeida-Porada.
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