Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection/re-infection: development of a protective HCMV vaccine

Giuseppe Gerna, Daniele Lilleri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, one of the main objectives in the field of medical virology has been the development of a human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) vaccine that can prevent congenital HCMV infection in the offspring of pregnant women as well as systemic and end-organ disease in immunocompromised (AIDS and transplanted) patients. Major obstacles to the development of an efficacious HCMV vaccine are lack of protection provided by immune memory cells against HCMV re-activation (replication relapse of a latent strain following primary infection) and HCMV re-infection (infection of a seropositive individual by a new virus strain). Thus, while initial efforts were directed at the development of a vaccine for the prevention of primary infection, in the last decade the primary vaccine development endpoint was the prevention of primary HCMV infection, as well as HCMV re-activation and re-infection. Along this line of research, both HCMV live (including Towne, AD169 and its derivatives, Towne/Toledo chimeras, Viral-Vectored vaccines, and Virus Replicon Particles) and non-living vaccines (including the recombinant gB subunit, DNA- and RNA-based vaccines, Virus-like particles, Dense bodies, Peptide vaccines, and the Pentamer Complex) have been developed. To date, Phase I, II, and III clinical trials have been variably conducted in humans, and experimental inoculation in different animal models has been performed with different vaccine formulations. Notwithstanding the variable research conditions, clinical and experimental results achieved thus far predict that the ideal HCMV vaccine should be able to elicit both robust humoral (both neutralizing and binding) and HCMV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses. This vaccine should hypothetically contain: 1) gB, inducing both humoral and T-cell responses; 2) the pentameric complex (PC), inducing the most potent neutralizing antibody response; 3) pp65, inducing the most potent HCMV-specific T-cell response. Although the protective role of cell-mediated immunity has been repeatedly documented, while the protective effect of (mostly neutralizing) antibodies remains partly to be documented, a vaccine stimulating both arms of the immune response would likely confer the highest level of protection against HCMV infection/disease in both HCMV-seronegative and -seropositive individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalThe new microbiologica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplant
  • Human cytomegalovirus
  • Ideal HCMV vaccine
  • Immune response
  • Live vaccine
  • Neutralizing antibody
  • Non-living vaccine
  • Pregnant women
  • Solid-organ transplant
  • T-cell response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)


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