Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is the most common systemic vasculitis in elderly individuals. Diagnosis is confirmed by temporal artery (TA) biopsy, although biopsy results are often negative. Despite the use of corticosteroids, disease may progress. Identification of causal agents will improve outcomes. Biopsy-positive GCA is associated with TA infection by varicella-zoster virus (VZV).
To analyze VZV infection in TAs of patients with clinically suspected GCA whose TAs were histopathologically negative and in normal TAs removed post mortem from age-matched individuals.
Design, Setting, and Participants
A cross-sectional study for VZV antigen was performed from January 2013 to March 2015 using archived, deidentified, formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded GCA-negative, GCA-positive, and normal TAs (50 sections/TA) collected during the past 30 years. Regions adjacent to those containing VZV were examined by hematoxylin-eosin staining. Immunohistochemistry identified inflammatory cells and cell types around nerve bundles containing VZV. A combination of 17 tertiary referral centers and private practices worldwide contributed archived TAs from individuals older than 50 years.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Presence and distribution of VZV antigen in TAs and histopathological changes in sections adjacent to those containing VZV were confirmed by 2 independent readers.
Varicella-zoster virus antigen was found in 45 of 70 GCA-negative TAs (64%), compared with 11 of 49 normal TAs (22%) (relative risk [RR] = 2.86; 95% CI, 1.75-5.31; P < .001). Extension of our earlier study revealed VZV antigen in 68 of 93 GCA-positive TAs (73%), compared with 11 of 49 normal TAs (22%) (RR = 3.26; 95% CI, 2.03-5.98; P < .001). Compared with normal TAs, VZV antigen was more likely to be present in the adventitia of both GCA-negative TAs (RR = 2.43; 95% CI, 1.82-3.41; P < .001) and GCA-positive TAs (RR = 2.03; 95% CI, 1.52-2.86; P < .001). Varicella-zoster virus antigen was frequently found in perineurial cells expressing claudin-1 around nerve bundles. Of 45 GCA-negative participants whose TAs contained VZV antigen, 1 had histopathological features characteristic of GCA, and 16 (36%) showed adventitial inflammation adjacent to viral antigen; no inflammation was seen in normal TAs.
Conclusions and Relevance
In patients with clinically suspected GCA, prevalence of VZV in their TAs is similar independent of whether biopsy results are negative or positive pathologically. Antiviral treatment may confer additional benefit to patients with biopsy-negative GCA treated with corticosteroids, although the optimal antiviral regimen remains to be determined.