Cytomegalovirus-specific CD8+ T-cells are associated with a reduced incidence of early relapse after allogeneic stem cell transplantation
Leukemia relapse is the main cause for mortality after allogeneic stem cell transplantation (allo-SCT). Donor-derived allo-immune responses eliminate the residual host hematopoiesis and protect against relapse. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) reactivation (CMV-R) after allo-SCT may trigger anti-leukemic effects. The impact of CMV-specific CD8+ T-cells (CMVCTLs) on the outcome after allo-SCT is currently unknown. Here, we studied the relationship between CMV-CTLs, overall T-cell reconstitution and relapse incidence in 103 patients with acute leukemia (n = 91) or myelodysplastic syndrome (n = 12) following CMV-seropositive recipient/donor (R+/D+) allo-SCT. Patients were subdivided based on the presence or absence of CMV-CTLs at 3 months after allo-SCT. Presence of CMV-CTLs was associated with preceding CMV-R and a fast T-cell reconstitution. Univariate analysis showed a significantly lower 1-, 2- and 5-year cumulative incidence of relapse (CIR) in patients with CMVCTLs compared to those without CMV-CTLs. Multivariable regression analysis of the outcome performed with other relevant parameters chosen from univariate analysis revealed that presence of CMV-CTLs and chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGvHD) were the only independent factors associated with a low CIR. Onset of relapse was significantly later in patients with CMV-CTLs (median 489 days) than in in those without (median 152 days, p =0.041) during a five-year follow-up. Presence of CMV-CTLs was associated with a lower incidence of early relapses (1 and 2-years), while cGvHD lead to a lower incidence of late relapses (2 to 5-years). In conclusion, our data show that CMV-CTLs indicate a functional immune-reconstitution protective against early relapse.