In a search for past or present infection with herpes viruses, serum antibody titres to herpes simplex type 1 virus, cytomegalovirus, and varicella-zoster virus were measured by complement fixation test in 58 patients with achalasia. Serum was also taken from 40 age and sex matched patients without oesophageal symptoms who formed a control group. All titres were low, and those for herpes simplex type 1 virus and cytomegalovirus did not differ in the achalasia patients and the controls. However, the incidence of varicella-zoster virus antibodies was significantly greater in the achalasia than in the control group (p < 0.05). Using oesophageal tissue containing myenteric plexus removed at the time of cardiomyotomy in nine patients with achalasia, in situ DNA hybridisation showed evidence of varicella-zoster virus in three, but all were negative for the other two viruses. No positive results were obtained for herpes simplex type 1 virus, cytomegalovirus, or varicella-zoster virus in oesophageal tissue from 20 patients undergoing oesophageal resection for diseases other than achalasia. The incidence of positivity for varicella-zoster virus was significantly increased in the achalasia group compared with the controls (p < 0.02). The findings indicate that varicella-zoster virus DNA may persist in the oesophageal myenteric plexus in some patients with achalasia and raise the possibility that this virus is of aetiological importance in achalasia.
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