Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a herpes virus that has been implicated in biological aging and impaired health. Evidence, largely
accrued from small-scale studies involving select populations, suggests that stress may promote non-clinical reactivation
of this virus. However, absent is evidence from larger studies, which allow better statistical adjustment for confounding
and mediating factors, in more representative samples.
The present study involved a large occupational cohort (N
= 887, mean age = 44, 88% male). Questionnaires assessed psychological (i.e., depression, anxiety, vital exhaustion, SF-12
mental health), demographic, socioeconomic (SES), and lifestyle variables. Plasma samples were analyzed for both the presence
and level of CMV-specific IgG antibodies (CMV-IgG), used as markers for infection status and viral reactivation, respectively.
Also assessed were potential biological mediators of stress-induced reactivation, such as inflammation (C-reactive protein)
and HPA function (awakening and diurnal cortisol). Predictors of CMV infection and CMV-IgG among the infected individuals
were analyzed using logistic and linear regression analyses, respectively.
Confirming prior reports, lower SES (education
and job status) was positively associated with infection status. Among those infected (N = 329), higher CMV-IgG were associated
with increased anxiety (β = .14, p < .05), depression (β = .11, p = .06), vital exhaustion (β = .14, p < .05), and decreased
SF-12 mental health (β = −.14, p < .05), adjusting for a range of potential confounders. Exploratory analyses showed that
these associations were generally stronger in low SES individuals. We found no evidence that elevated inflammation or HPA-function
mediated any of the associations.
In the largest study to date, we established associations between CMV-IgG levels
and multiple indicators of psychological stress. These results demonstrate the robustness of prior findings, and extend these
to a general working population. We propose that stress-induced CMV replication warrants further research as a psychobiological
mechanism linking stress, aging and health.