Although viremia is a hallmark of disseminated cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, not all viremic patients have visceral organ CMV disease. We used blot hybridization with a cloned subgenomic probe to quantitate viral DNA in blood leukocytes of 60 viremic patients (25 with solid organ transplants, 20 with AIDS, and 15 marrow recipients) who had different clinical manifestations of CMV infection. The results are expressed as pg of viral DNA/10 micrograms of leukocyte DNA. Patients with AIDS or with solid organ transplants who had CMV visceral organ disease had the largest amounts of viral DNA in their granulocytes (median 632 and 237 pg, respectively). These amounts were significantly greater than those in similar viremic patients without CMV visceral disease (17 and 21 pg; P < 0.005 and 0.002, respectively). All patients in the study with > 150 pg of CMV DNA in their granulocytes had visceral CMV disease. The amounts of viral DNA in granulocytes of AIDS and organ transplant patients with CMV retinitis were low (median 22 pg). Marrow transplant patients were unique in that the amounts of CMV DNA in granulocytes were low whether CMV visceral organ disease was present (17 pg) or absent (14 pg). We conclude that high levels of circulating CMV DNA in viremic AIDS and solid organ transplant patients reflect viral involvement of visceral organs but not the retina. In marrow recipients, the severity of CMV disease, even when fatal, is not reflected quantitatively in peripheral blood leukocytes.
R L Saltzman, M R Quirk, M C Jordan